Senior soccer side worthy winners in repeat of league final

DCU’s Collingwood soccer team overcame a strong DIT side in their opening game of the Premier Division North season on Wednesday last, courtesy of a Philip Kavanagh goal just minutes into the second half.

Despite being without David Gaul, Daniel Mahon, Rory Dunleavy, James Mooney and Jack Memery, the home side put on a good performance, to the delight of manager Declan Roche.

“We were delighted with the win because we were due to start the week before against Maynooth but that was called off. In one way that was pleasing because we were still organising the players. We had a number of senior players who were out injured so the week was messy getting everyone in.”

Last Wednesday’s clash was a repeat of last year’s league final in which the Glasnevin university were beaten, despite performing well on the day.

On that bitterly cold night in Frank Cooke Park last March, DCU lost out by two goals to a DIT side that had luck as well as a one-man advantage on their side after Rory Dunleavy was given his marching orders early in the second half.

That devastating final loss certainly acted as a motivator for DCU, says Roche. “I suppose in some ways it was [extra motivation]. In one way it definitely worked for us because some of the team yesterday weren’t involved with us last year, we had one or two new freshers and a few lads stepping up. For the senior players who were around last year there definitely was a bit of that. DIT were the only team to beat us last year so there was obviously that around it.”

On a more pleasant afternoon last week the DCU ‘A’ team took to the pitch with payback on their minds. Indeed the opening quarter of the game was played at a frantic pace that showed both sides were well up for this fixture.

The pace was being set by DCU, with Michael Isichei and Daniel Aherne linking well up front. That partnership nearly reaped dividends after ten minutes when Isichei flashed a ball across the face of the goal, narrowly evading the toe of the incoming Aherne.

After a dominant opening quarter of the game, DIT started to come into the contest a bit more as the pace became less frantic. A point-blank one-on-one save from DCU goalkeeper Ben Dale on the 25th minute mark denied Bidemi Opolubi a goal and ensured the game remained scoreless.

A flurry of yellow cards in the space of 10 minutes meant that Warren Behan, David Brick and Robbie Gaul were all walking a tightrope for the remainder of the game.

Some excellent work down the wing from right-back Darren Craven resulted in his half-cleared cross falling to Conor Ralphe but the winger lacked the composure he needed to find the net as his volley flew wide.

Seconds before half-time DIT squandered one of their few chances when Opolubi headed over the bar from six yards. This was one of the few times the away side managed to find a way through the DCU defence, which looked solid and well organised all game. The way in which the side has gelled together after just three training sessions is something that very much pleased Roche.

“That was great to see. We were lucky that we had Ben [Dale] there, Robbie Gaul and Michael [Isichei], some senior players who were there with us last year. But we also had some new lads involved with us. I mean we only had three or four sessions behind us but we’re playing well together already.”

The game had been a relatively even clash when the referee blew the whistle for half-time with DCU perhaps shading it in terms of chances created.

The half-time team talk from Roche and assistant manager John Russell certainly had an immediate impact however as DCU were ahead after just three minutes of the second period.

Cutting in from the left-wing, Philip Kavanagh unleashed a cross towards the back post that was helped by the breeze to dip over net-minder Nathan Cooney and into the back of the net.

Spurred on by the goal, DCU took control of the game and stroked the ball around nicely with Isichei and Aherne making good use of the channels to run at the DIT defence.

DCU were dominant for the entire second half, restricting the visitors to long range efforts that never threatened Dale.

The only clear cut chance for DIT to grab an equaliser came with just four minutes left when the recently introduced Daniel Higgins struck a volley narrowly wide of Dale’s right-hand post.

The win leaves DCU three points behind UCD at the top of the league but the southside university have played two games already. The top four teams from the division qualify for the quarter-finals and Roche is determined to go one step further this year and lift the league trophy.

“Obviously we’re here to try and win it. The way the elite league is this year is that there are six teams in it and the top four get to the quarter finals so our target for the moment is to get to the top four.”

Meanwhile the DCU fresher team got their season off to a mixed start, losing heavily to DIT in their opening game but convincingly beating Mater Dei 5-1 in their second game.

Ruaidhrí Croke

Image Credit: Aidan Broletti

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