UCD make sure of their place in the top flight
Goals from Benson and Clarke ensure a losing farewell to the Premier Division for already-relegated Shelbourne
Robbie Benson who scored one of UCD’s goals at Tolka Park in the win over Shelbourne. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Shelbourne 1 UCD 2
UCD finally completed their uncertain journey to top-flight safety last night in Tolka Park where first-half goals from Robbie Benson and Dean Clarke paved the way to a win that should really have been more comfortable given the number of chances they created against their dispirited-looking hosts.
Their goals bookended a three minute quick-fire exchange during which Ian Ryan had the home side level for 90 seconds or so and while both sides had their chances in the 70 minutes of generally open but scarcely compelling football that remained after the third goal, Clarke and Sean Russell should have made things safe for the students long before the end.
It mattered little in the end, of course, for even the narrow win combined with the result out in Bray was enough to ensure that UCD will be back confounding their critics and testing themselves against the country’s best sides on a weekly basis again next season.
Shelbourne, on the other hand, go away to lick their wounds and prepare for life back in the First Division where they spent five years before finally clawing their way out two seasons ago. One director said he would have laughed at the notion of them being relegated if it had been put to him a year ago.
But he readily accepted that they deserved no better as things turned out – given how poor they have been.
Club chairman, Joe Casey, insists Shelbourne will soldier on but the club puts the likely loss of gate receipt income at something approaching 60 per cent for next year with away support , having accounted for more than half in the campaign just ended, likely to be almost non-existent.
As it happens, they got a little taste of what they might be in store for here with few UCD supporters amongst a crowd of just 628.
Other revenues will, in turn, be harder to generate although there is some optimism that Volkswagen will provide a basis on which to build the sponsorship side of things by staying on board.
It is hard to find any other silver linings on what is a distinctly cloudy horizon for the Dublin club. Their tenancy at Tolka is still a mess (though one far from entirely their own making at this stage) and there are lingering other issues from the Ollie Byrne era that are certainly not going to get addressed any faster with the team playing its football in the First Division.
It’s not far short of a decade now since they were knocking desperately on the door of the Champions League under Byrne and seven years since they won the 13th of the club’s league titles then fell away dramatically from the top of the Irish game.
Since then things have been stabilised to a remarkable extent but with an inevitable effect on the quality of the football. This season the first team budget was cut by 20 per cent, numbers were pruned and injuries to the likes of Glenn Cronin, Brian Shortall and Paul Crowley(who was the only one of the three to even make the bench last night) were even more acutely felt than might have the case.
Now all are gone, their contracts having expired at the final whistle last night and there will be half as much money available to put a new squad together. The question as to whether John McDonnell is the man to spend it will be top of the agenda at a board meeting to be held, most likely on Monday or Tuesday night.
Whether he is asked to stay on looks to be very much up in the air at this point. His supporters will argue that he inherited a poor situation and briefly inspired an improvement that looked like it would lay the basis for survival with 14 points taken from a possible 21 between mid -May and the start of August.
Last night’s defeat made it one point from 11 games, though, and the Dubliner’s inability to get something more out of his players during the run-in is bound to have caused some concern about whether he should be left in charge.
Either way, it will be a long and hard road back for a club that once thought it could lead the way for Irish football.
SHELBOURNE: Murphy; Cornwall, Ryan, Andrews, McGlynn (Hurley, half-time); Connolly, Flynn, Bayly (Murtagh, 85 mins), Doyle (Tinnelly, 85 mins); Walshe, Kelly.
UCD: McGinley; Kelly, Boyle, O’Connor, Langtry (Coyne, 74 mins); Walsh, Kavanagh (McCabe, 89 mins), Creevy, Russell; Benson, Clarke (Morrison, 79 mins).
Referee: P Tuite (Dublin).