Seamus Staunton receives the Cup from Barney Blood (UCFL) and Mick Byrne (O'Neills)
Aidan Hyland was Man of the Match

25/05/2019: O’Neills.com Challenge Cup Final: VEC FC 6-3 Drumcondra AFC

The Challenge Cup Final on Saturday evening proved to be a high-scoring affair as Premier Division leaders VEC got the better of Drumcondra on a 6-3 scoreline.

As outsiders from Division 1, Drumcondra might have imagined that their best hope lay in keeping things tight at least initially, with an early goal for their more fancied opponents the last thing they needed. But any such hopes were dealt a severe blow just 8 minutes in when Tom Wrynne reacted quickest to a ricochet in the Drumcondra box to turn the ball into an empty net.

However, Drumcondra were level within two minutes when Darragh Irwin latched onto the ball and from 25 yards unleashed a screamer into the top corner beyond Davy Frewen’s dive in the VEC goal.

Those two early goals seemed to set the tone, with the open nature of the game making it that bit harder for Drumcondra to contain a VEC team who have been vying for the Premier Division title all season. Drumcondra competed well for much of the rest of the first half, but they were knocked back again just before the half hour mark when a move down the left wing with Anto Dunne prominent released Aidan Hyland to lift the ball over the advancing keeper with impressive assurance to put VEC back in front.

Drumcondra did occasionally threaten with Keenen Jesperson and Tarik Allag combining to give VEC some uncomfortable moments before half-time. Despite VEC hitting the bar 5 minutes into the second half, Drumcondra were still very much in the game and VEC keeper Frewen did very well to claw Allag’s shot out from virtually under the crossbar and away for a corner. The resulting corner was only half cleared to Darragh Irwin whose shot from the edge of the area was saved well low down at the base of his post by Frewen.

But with 60 minutes gone a counterattack by VEC ended with Aidan Hyland taking possession on the edge of the area before switching direction and lobbing keeper Mark McConigley from the edge of the area to put VEC 3-1 ahead. And five minutes later Hyland completed his hat-trick, rounding the keeper to score after Seamus Staunton won a header to play him in.

That appeared to end the game as a contest, especially after Joey Byrne tapped home after another effort from Hyland came back off a post with 10 minutes left. However, Drumcondra had other ideas. There still appeared little chance of a comeback when Conor Rock drove into the box before turning inside and shooting home to reduce the deficit to 2-5. But when the VEC defence failed to deal with a free-kick, Allag was on hand to turn the ball home for 3-5 with 5 minutes remaining.

Almost incredibly, Drumcondra then came close to reducing the deficit to a single goal as Frewen was forced to flap at a low centre on his goal line, but the danger passed and VEC broke away for Staunton to finally settle matters with a clinical finish.

So VEC lifted the Challenge Cup for the eighth time, but Drumcondra can take much satisfaction from an excellent performance against an accomplished team which reached the last 16 of this season’s FAI Junior Cup along with an ongoing challenge for the Premier Division title which my well end in a further triumph in the coming days.

VEC FC – Davy Frewen, Peter O’Brien, Gavin Murphy, Neal Breslin, Conall O’Shaughnessy, Mick Kinsella, Ray Jaudzems, Seamus Staunton, Tom Wrynne, Aidan Hyland, Anthony Dunne. Subs - Joey Byrne, Pat Meghen, Sam Jackson, Eoin Ferry, Jack Nolan, Rob Newe, Andy Myler, James McGauran, Richie Hanniffy.

Drumcondra – Mark McConigley, Shane Sweeney, Darragh Irwin, Colm McGonigle, Michael Lynch, Cian Brady, Enda Coll, Lorcan Dooley, Conor Rock, Keenen Jespersen, Tarik Allag. Subs – Jeff Warren, Kevin Healy, Sean O’Grady, Sean Irwin, Mathieu Bon, Ciaran King.

O’Neills.com Challenge and MMI Cup Finals on Saturday

Saturday sees the highlight of the UCFL’s season, featuring the Final of the O’Neills.com Challenge Cup, preceded by the MMI Cup Final. This season, the venue will be the NDSL’s Oscar Traynor Coaching and Development Centre, Oscar Traynor Road, Coolock Village, Dublin 17. The MMI Cup Final will kick off at 2.00 p.m., with the Challenge Cup Final itself timed to begin at 5.30 p.m.

The Challenge Cup Fnial will be contested by VEC FC, Premier Division leaders with one game outstanding and Drumcondra AFC, confirmed champions of Division 1.

Before that, Atletico Malahide and Oldbury will contest the MMI Cup Final. This will be the first appearance of either of these teams in one of the UCFL’s major Cup Finals, both teams being recent additions to the UCFL, Atletico having joined in 2015 and Oldbury the following year, 2016.

There will be an admission charge of €5 for spectators attending the games on Saturday. Admission will include a match programme covering both fina