As they did in last year’s FAI Cup quarter-final, UCD outplayed Waterford once again to run out deserved winners in a cracking SSE Airtricity League Premier Division clash at the UCD Bowl.
Stephen Kenny was in attendance to watch four of his Republic of Ireland under-21 squad, two on each side, and he can only have been impressed by the passing football from both sides in testing conditions.
Two rugby matches had been played on the pitch the day before, leaving the surface far from ideal.
But it didn’t hinder either side from starting the game well with opportunities at either end inside the opening five minutes.
Blues were first to threaten, JJ Lunney not far over the top with a dipping left-foot volley from outside the area.
UCD responded, Dan Tobin getting forward to force Waterford keeper Matt Connor into a fine save in diving to his right to bat away a fierce drive from the College right-back.
Despite the uneven pitch and persistent rain, UCD stayed true to their passing game and they clinically punished a Waterford mistake for the lead goal on 21 minutes.
A heavy touch from ex-Student Maxi Kouogun was pounced upon by Yoyo Mahdy. He pulled the ball back for in-rushing skipper Gary O’Neill, who was upended by Blues’ captain Damien Delaney to concede a penalty.
O’Neill scored emphatically from the spot, sending Connor the wrong way.
It got worse for Blues three minutes later as UCD doubled their lead, again following poor defending.
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Cork referee Anthony Buttimer initially played an advantage following a foul on Richie O’Farrell before pulling play back for the free kick.
O’Neill again showcased his deadball prowess when clipping the ball over the wall, and though it bounced back down off Connor’s crossbar, Mahdy reacted far quick than the static Blues defence to run in and head the ball to the net.
If a bit of a mess defensively, Waterford threatened when they got forward and were inches from pulling a goal back on the half hour.
Kevin Lynch and Scott Twine worked the ball across from the left for Zak Elbouzedi whose low drive came back off the butt of a post.
And the visitors make no mistake seven minutes later as they carved UCD open. Aaron Drinan powered into the box to shoot. Conor Kearns could only parry the low drive away. Twine was first to the loose ball to drill it to the net.
In a thrilling, open game, the woodwork rescued Waterford two minutes before the break.
Neil Farrugia showed good feet to set up Mahdy who cracked a low drive off Connor’s left-hand post.
Waterford made two changes at half-time, but they were two goals behind again two minutes into the second half.
The marking was poor as Richie O’Farrell out-jumped the Blues rearguard to meet O’Neill’s corner and power his header to the net.
Substitute Sean McDonald added a fourth goal on 73 minutes, just second after he’d come on.
Lynch’s backpass fell short with Connor’s clearance cannoning off McDonald to give the striker a free run on goal to tap home.
UCD: Conor Kearns; Dan Tobin, Liam Scales, Josh Collins, Mark Dignam; Gary O’Neill; Neil Farrugia (Kevin Coffey 79), Richie O’Farrell, Timmy Molloy (Paul Doyle 82), Jason McClelland; Yoyo Mahdy (Sean McDonald 72).
Waterford: Matt Connor; Aaron Simpson (Rory Feely at half-time), Damien Delaney, Maxim Kouogun, Kevin Lynch; Karolis Chedvukas (Bastien Hery at half-time), Shane Duggan, JJ Lunney (John Martin 69); Zak Elbouzedi, Aaron Drinan, Scott Twine.
Referee: Anthony Buttimer (Cork).