Share or the spoils on a sombre day

 

ANOTHER point towards Premier Division survival for UCD and a point towards respectability for the faltering champions.

And given the clouds which hung over the game, literal and metaphorical, those, ultimately, were the only points worth taking from yesterday's exercise at Belfield Park.

A suitably sombre conclusion, perhaps, as even football's capacity for therapeutic escapism had been put in its place by the death the night before of former Dundalk chairman, Eamonn Hiney, in a car crash. A good man who will be missed by many within the game, not just at Dundalk.

There was a minute's silence before the kick-off and, naturally Dundalk's players wore black armbands. Hiney had been the instrumental figure in bringing Dermot Keely to Dundalk as manager, and it so happened that a terrible week for the club had begun with the latter's resignation the previous weekend.

"It's been a bad week for the club," admitted caretaker manager Tommy Connolly afterwards, and you could sense he and the club were merely relieved that it was all over.

In the circumstances, the Dundalk players did the club credit, competing vigorously and honestly enough to deny a hungrier UCD maximum points.

As cancellations from rival codes within the capital filtered through the airwaves, it was a surprise to even find the game taking place; even more to find the pitch green on top and eminently playable, especially at the outset.

It was during this time that UCD's best chance of victory lay, given their superior passing and movement off the ball was less curtailed by a surface which gradually churned up. Packie Lynch, revelling in his recently revised role of midfield anchorman in the latest formation from UCD's tactical boot room, 4-5-1, ran the show.

Initially, UCD's lone striker Mick O'Byrne was quickest onto anything that came into his vicinity. while UCD continuously explored the flanks through the diminutive Ciaran Kavanagh and the comparatively languid Jame Keddy. But Dundalk, despite being without a win this year. were sufficiently motivated to keep UCD out.

During one period they threw bodies in the way of countless crosses and shots. Still, UCD did break through, most notably when Robbie Griffin miscued a centre from the lively Ciaran Kavanagh alter 14 minutes and when O'Byrne released Lynch on the break following Dundalk's first corner after 22 minutes, only for the latter to shoot tamely wide with James Keddy unmarked inside.

An enforced 24th minute substitution inadvertently strengthened Dundalk, even if it left them with no recognised striker. Joe Gallen limped off, obliging Connolly to bring on Anto Whelan with Mick Doohan moving up front alongside converted winger Brian Byrne.

Most of all though, thereafter Whelan kept a much tighter rein on O'Byrne. Kavanagh did test Eddie Van Boxtel with a long-range drive after a sweet triangle involving himself, O'Byrne and Jason Colwell, but Dundalk came increasingly into it.

Seamus Kelly saved one-handed from Stephen Kelly, in an unusually rare sortie forward from him. As Dundalk's physical strength took a foothold, after the break they even penned UCD in for a lengthy spell.

But UCD's younger, speedier legs always carried the greater threat. Nearing the hour mark, Van Boxtel awkwardly touched a sweetly struck first time volley by Lynch onto his post. UCD old boy Joe Hanrahan turned up, of all places, at Dundalk's far post to deny Keddy a probable headed goal from an O'Byrne cross, as did John Coady to deny O'Byrne from a deflected Keddy corner.

In between, Keddy latched onto Whelan's risky crossfield clearance as Van Boxtel left his area, but O'Byrne was clearly off-side in helping the ball into an empty net.

Dundalk hung on grimly and there was an inevitability about the outcome long before the end. Indeed there was an argument for not playing the game at all, but that had little to do with the pitch.

Giuseppe Signori scored the goal that won the Rome derby last night - and promptly got himself sent off. The Italian international's 84th-minute penalty for Lazio was the only goal of their clash with Roma but the Italian international's celebrations were cut short when he received his marching orders for stripping off his shirt and waving it to fans.

Earlier in the day George Weah had to be helped off with a head injury alter nodding home a brave winner two minutes front time to give AC Milan a 3-2 win over Bari.