Dublin University Football Club (DUFC) Men fell to a shock opening-day defeat in Division 1A of the All-Ireland League this afternoon, losing out 30-20 to a dogged University College Cork (UCC).
A soggy College Park played host to the curtain-raiser this afternoon, with DUFC hoping to get their season off to a good start after a sensational end to last year. They welcomed back Max Kearney to their starting line-up, along with Patrick Nulty, who came in as a late replacement for Paddy Hamilton.
UCC brought a fiery intensity to the opening stages of the match. Right from the off, they looked to gain territory in the Trinity half. Pointedly more audible on the pitch, the visitors utilised ensemble moves to force a penalty. Fly-half James Taylor dispatched the kick, leaving it 3-0 after three minutes.
Trinity looked to respond and had an opportunity to do so when they won a penalty after some pressure on the Cork defence, but Michael O’Kennedy dragged his kick wide.
Before long UCC were back on the offensive – Cian Bohane released Rob Hedderman to run at the Trinity backline, but a crucial tackle from his opposite number, Luis Faria, snuffed out the attack. Determined to salvage a score from the pressure, UCC won another penalty, which was duly dispatched by Taylor.
Cork pressed on, asking questions of the Trinity backline. On 16 minutes, Murray Linn offloaded to Hedderman, who this time crashed over for the opening try of the match. Taylor, growing in confidence, made the score 13-0.
It looked like Trinity were in danger of losing touch with their visitors, even at this early stage, and they needed to respond quickly. A Hedderman knock-on allowed DUFC to get numbers into UCC territory and, in a rapid move down the flank, the home side looked to get on the board. After an illegal Fergus Hennessey tackle on former DUFC under-20s captain James Moriarty, O’Kennedy scored from the tee to cut the gap to 10 points.
Trinity dealt with the ensuing UCC pressure, with front-row Bart Vermeulen securing a hard-fought turnover. Trinity won their first line-out of the match after the half-hour mark, and the set-piece almost led to a try, but a handling error by Joseph McCarthy right on the tryline kept the scoreline steady.
Undeterred, Trinity began to dominate and pushed for their first try of the league campaign.
After a number of unsuccessful phases, the breakthrough came on the stroke of half-time. A Trinity maul off a scrum heaved for the tryline, and Donnacha Mescal was the man to ground the ball – much to the relief of the home crowd. O’Kennedy made sure of his conversion, leaving it 13-10 at the break.
Trinity looked to ride the momentum of their try after the restart. A break from Louis O’Reilly after a quickly taken penalty almost set Faria off, but a fumble from the full-back spared the Cork side.
UCC stepped up the intensity again: contesting every ball, the visitors looked hungry to come away from College Park with maximum points. Despite some excellent work from Hugh Twomey in defence, UCC were in for their second try just six minutes into the half. This time Rory Suttor crossed the tryline for the visitors, extending the gap to eight points.
After O’Kennedy’s restart, a frantic period of play ensued, and UCC came again – with power. John Poland released Matthew Bowen down the flank, with the winger collecting his own chipped punt to crash over by the corner. Taylor slotted over his conversion to make it 25-10.
With the game now slipping from DUFC’s grasp, UCC’s Taylor looked to punish the home side again with excellent territorial kicking. The play was contained to DUFC’s 22, and Cork pressed to kill the game off.
Trinity survived the onslaught – barely. Fresh legs were introduced, with substitutes Tomas Killeen and Rueben Pim combining on the flank, attempting to kick-start a Trinity comeback. They secured a penalty after sustained attacking moves, and O’Kennedy split the posts to pull back three points.
Despite their best efforts to assert their dominance in the match, Cork refused to let Trinity back into the tie. Pinned back in their 22, Trinity were forced to weather waves of UCC attack. Bohane was almost in to kill off the match with another try, but Trinity held on to clear.
It had been a frustrating afternoon for Trinity, and it wasn’t until 10 minutes before the end that passes began to stick and they could hold move through a few phases. James Fennelly, on off the bench and sporting a trademark black scrum-cap, kicked from distance to shift play to the UCC 22. Trinity were quick to capitalise on the swing in momentum, with Moriarty crossing the line to give them a lifeline. O’Kennedy’s kick was met with raised flags, leaving just five points between the sides with minutes remaining.
Fennelly was again in the thick of it after the restart, again finding touch in the UCC 22 with a kick in behind. Trinity pressed the Cork defence, but the greasy surface made play extremely difficult, and the attack eventually broke down.
UCC cleared the danger and found themselves in the Trinity 22 with 80 minutes fast approaching. DUFC were visibly stretched, with Cork players lining up to receive the ball out wide.
Bowen, in acres of space, was left free to see out the match with his second try of the afternoon, and the referee’s whistle brought time on a 30-20 defeat that will leave DUFC rueing a missed opportunity to get their campaign off to a positive start.
Trinity must regroup quickly – University College Dublin (UCD) await Tony Smeeth’s side next week. A victory in the first Colours match of the season would be the perfect way to return to winning ways.
DUFC: Luis Faria, Ronan Quinn, James Hickey, Hugh Twomey, Michael O’Kennedy, Louis O’Reilly, Bart Vermeulen, Donnacha Mescal, Aziz Nasar, Arthur Greene, Joseph McCarthy, Johnny McKeown, Max Kearney, Patrick Nulty.
UCC: Rob Hedderman, Murray Linn, Cian Bohane, Peter Sylvester, Matthew Bowen, James Taylor, John Poland, Bryan O’Connor, Fergus Hennessey, Rob Loftus, Cian Barry, Richard Thompson, Aiden Brien, Rory Suttor, Daire Feeney.