Dublin University Football Club (DUFC) Men secured an impressive 30-23 win over Lansdowne FC today in a sun-soaked College Park.
Fresh from their preseason tour in the US, DUFC fielded a strong team in the Leinster League clash, their first competitive home fixture of the season. Although notable absentees such as Max Kearney and Colm Hogan did not feature through injury, many key players from last year’s All-Ireland League (AIL) 1A squad returned today to face the Ballsbridge outfit.
Lansdowne set the tempo in the opening minutes. William Walsh, wearing number 11 for the visitors, crossed the line with ease to open the scoring. A missed conversion from Tim Foley left the score at 5-0.
Trinity looked to respond immediately with Ronan Quinn making a trademark dart for the try-line down the flank. Trinity were held up at Lansdowne’s 22, with several phases of play passing before the referee awarded a penalty to the home side. Michael O’Kennedy opened his account for the afternoon, slotting over the set piece.
After this brief hiccup, Lansdowne again settled in to take control of the match. Making significant gains in the Trinity half, a penalty won by Lansdowne was converted to stretch the lead to five.
Despite a sloppy restart, DUFC secured possession and began to press the Lansdowne backline. The Lansdowne defence was vigilant under sustained pressure. Forced back out of the 22, Trinity looked to regroup, Hickey barking orders at his teammate from midfield. In a sudden break, Quinn found a gap in the Lansdowne formation and sprinted for the try-line, crashing over for five. O’Kennedy made sure of the conversion, with DUFC taking the lead for the first time.
Lansdowne’s greatest asset was the strength of their scrum, which regularly punished Trinity. DUFC struggled to find a solution to their opponent’s physical force – a maul off a line-out in the Trinity 22 pushed hard for the try-line, with the referee eventually awarding a penalty try to the away side, leaving it 15-10 at half-time.
Lansdowne again came out strong in the second period. Walsh went in search of a second try with a burst forward, only for the attack to be broken down by good Trinity defending.
Lansdowne’s power again put DUFC under immense pressure, with the referee awarding the away team a penalty after Trinity repeatedly collapsed a scrum. Foley’s kick drifted wide, however, keeping Trinity within touching distance.
Some 10 minutes into the second half, the missed opportunity for Lansdowne proved to be a turning point in the match. Pressing high after a shaky restart, DUFC regained their composure, moving the ball swiftly across the Lansdowne 22. Following excellent grafting from Tomas Killeen – returning to DUFC after a prolonged absence – Johnny McKeown reached the try-line, grounding the ball right under the goalposts. O’Kennedy added the extras, leaving it 17-15 to the home team.
Their noses in front, DUFC displayed some of the fluid, rhythmic rugby that saw them reach the play-offs of the AIL last year. Batting down attempts by Lansdowne’s Tom Roche to launch a response, Trinity pinned their opponents back, forcing an advantage. The referee came back to award a penalty, with O’Kennedy clocking up another three points.
Lansdowne refused to lie down – a line-out on the Trinity 22 after the restart opened up space for the away side. The ball moved quickly through the hands, finding James Reynolds who crossed the try-line to draw the scores level. A missed conversion from Foley left the game on a knife edge.
Sensing an opportunity, Lansdowne moved in for the victory. Immediately gaining territory after a sloppy restart from DUFC, Lansdowne set up camp on the Trinity 22 again. Crumbling under the pressure, Trinity conceded a penalty that Foley dispatched with ease.
Winning a scrum after the restart, Trinity looked shaky as they took more punishment from the Lansdowne pack. Holding on to allow Killeen to secure possession, the home side got their second wind. Winning a penalty after a trip on Hickey, the ball was kicked to touch, putting Trinity in prime position. Playing Lansdowne at their own game, a Trinity maul off the line-out forced their opponent’s defence back, and Paddy Hamilton grounded the ball for DUFC. O’Kennedy missed the kick, leaving the score at 25-23 with seven minutes to go.
Now in the driving seat, Trinity looked to kill off the match – defending resolutely, Lansdowne began to lose faith. Returning to DUFC after a two-year absence, it was Trinity back row Neilus Mulvihill who had the last say in College Park. Bursting through the depleted Lansdowne defence, Mulvihill crossed the try-line to cap off a promising DUFC performance.
Speaking to The University Times after the match, captain James Hickey acknowledged the encouraging performance, but noted that “it was definitely far from what we can be, or what we should be”.
He added that he was “proud of how grinded it out… very proud of how we saw the game out”.
Hickey’s estimation of the game was fair – although Trinity’s performance was spattered with mistakes, the raw ability on show and discipline in forcing out the result is something to take forward looking to the AIL.
Before their opening fixture in the AIL against University College Cork, DUFC will face Naas in two weeks time in their next Leinster League fixture. Along with DUFC Women, they will travel to the Aviva Stadium next week to take on Wanderers FC, who are running an exhibition match to celebrate their 150th anniversary.