Dublin University Football Club (DUFC) snatched a tight 31-29 victory over University College Cork (UCC) in College Park on Saturday. After a blistering start from the Trinity side, the visitors clawed their way back into the game and had a chance to win with a last minute penalty. However, the home team held on to record their sixth win in All Ireland League (AIL) Division 1A.
With their sights set on a playoff spot, DUFC came into the game with an impressive run of form. The College team beat Leinster rivals Clontarf 29-21 in their last outing. Trinity’s starting XV saw the return of Rowan Osborne, Max Kearney, Dan Sheehan, and captain Colm Hogan, who all played for Ireland Students in their win against Scotland last weekend in Belfast. Tighthead prop Aziz Naser also made the team, and Michael O’Kennedy got the nod at outhalf, with James Fennelly settling for a place on the bench. UCC were looking to build on their shock win against defending champions Lansdowne last time out.
The home side shot out of the blocks, almost getting a try in the first play of the game, but gave away a penalty on the UCC tryline to let the visitors off the hook for the time being. O’Kennedy had the opportunity to take the lead for Trinity with an early penalty, but his shot met the post before bouncing back into play. The hosts were rewarded for their good start on nine minutes, with back-rower Niall O’Riordan, flanked by Kearney, crashed over under the sticks to give Trinity their first try. O’Kennedy made no mistake this time, slotted home his conversion for a 7-0 lead.
DUFC kicked on from there, with fullback Hogan making a searing break to nearly give the home side a second try, the pass to winger Ronan Quinn just not going to hand. Soon after, the hosts threatened again, and through sustained attacking play, Ryan Baird crossed the whitewash to bring the lead to 12 points. O’Kennedy added the extras to give Trinity a 14 point lead inside the opening quarter.
UCC bounced back however, and their solid scrum gave them the perfect launchpad for an offensive drive of their own. Scrum-half John Poland touched down for the visitors in the 21st minutes, and the conversion from out-half James Taylor reduced the deficit to seven points. Trinity then gave away a cheap penalty, and Taylor’s successful shot at goal brought the score to 14-10.
A superb try from Hogan was cancelled out by a soft score for UCC on 31 minutes. Both teams nailed the conversions, with the score at 21-17 in favour of the home side at the break.
A physical and error-strewn period came just after half-time, with neither side managing to gain any sort of advantage. UCC came out fighting, and on 53 minutes, Cian Fitzgerald scored to give the Cork side the lead for the first time. Taylor’s conversion went wide, so UCC led by the tightest of margins at 22-21. Meanwhile, the hosts’ penalty count was starting to build up, as panic began to set in on Tony Smeeth’s young charges.
Fennelly came on for O’Kennedy to steady the ship for the home side and the replacement outhalf brought some composure back to the team. Trinity slowly gathered some steam with some attritional attacking play. After a number of physical phases, the hosts’ patience was rewarded as they grabbed the all-important bonus- point try from close range. Fennelly’s reliable boot brought the score to 28-22.
Trinity could have gotten a fifth try after a brilliant line from centre James Hickey, but his midfield partner Phil Murphy threw a poor pass and the attack came to nothing. Fennelly’s penalty gave the home side a nine point advantage heading into the final ten minutes.
The game was far from over, however, and UCC got another converted try to cut the lead to two points and set up a thrilling finale. A penalty for the visitors in the last minute left the home team on edge, and Taylor had a chance to snatch the victory from the jaws of defeat with a kick just shy of the halfway line. As College Park fell silent, his attempt fell just short and Trinity held on to take the win.
Speaking after the game, Hogan gave a fair assessment of his side’s performance: “We knew UCC were on a really good run of form with wins against Garryowen and Lansdowne. A couple of mistakes let them back in the game. We dug it out in the end but we made it a lot harder than we needed to.”
“We’ve got two back-to-back wins here in College Park so it’s great for our own momentum. We have Terenure, Young Munster, and Shannon over the next few weeks, and they all have a lot to play for themselves. If we can pick up as many points as we can, then there’s no reason why we can’t get that fourth place spot.”
DUFC sit in fifth position in Division 1A, just four points off playoff rivals Garryowen in fourth. Their next game sees them travel to Shannon next Saturday, February 23.