The Blues football tour to Dublin proved successful, with the team securing an impressive two wins out of two over their Irish opponents.
The first came against University College Dublin (UCD), regarded as the best university side in Ireland, who feed into a club side which competes in the top tier of Irish football. It was always going to be a tough game for the Blues, especially given that kick-off was only a few hours after the team touched down in Ireland. The match was played on an artificial pitch due to the wet weather, and it began with the opposition dominating possession under the floodlights.
However, the Blues worked hard to maintain their shape and defensive discipline, restricting their opponents to shots from distances that were comfortably fielded by Belfast-born keeper Blaine Scott. The Oxford team slowly grew into the game, creating chances themselves and eventually breaking the deadlock after half an hour, with a perfectly-timed through-ball from the Blues’ Kiwi midfielder Brook Tozer finding winger Ezra Rubenstein, who took advantage of some poor positioning to beat the UCD keeper at his near post. The tourists were clearly energised by this confidence boost and continued to frustrate their opponents, looking more likely to extend their lead than concede it. Despite a slightly nervy finish, which was delayed by floodlight failure, the Blues held onto the win to begin their tour in perfect fashion.
It was a performance built on intensity – typified by the all-action performance of prodigious Pembroke midfielder Alex Tsaptsinos – and defensive solidity, led by outstanding centre-back Michael Moneke and vice-captain Benedict May, in the absence of new recruit from Harvard, Rich Smith.
Despite making five changes to the team, the Blues managed to reproduce that solidity and intensity just two days later in an emphatic 3-1 victory over UCD’s cross-town rivals Trinity College Dublin – a university built in the mould of Oxbridge in 1592. The game was played right in the middle of Trinity’s beautiful campus, and attracted a crowd, many of whom were seen peering from the windows of the library that overlooks the pitch.
The Oxford team dominated the first period, with the majority of action taking place inside the Trinity half, and were very unlucky to find themselves a goal down at the break. A perfectly-placed header from the Trinity forward in what was their only meaningful attack gave them a surprise lead fifteen minutes in, with the Blues squandering several good chances to equalise. Indeed, there were just twenty minutes of the match left when they finally got the goal their play deserved. Trinity were a matter of inches away from doubling their lead just seconds before, as keeper Scott could only watch a majestic volleyed lob fortunately bounce back off the bar. This close call seemed to spur the visitors into action, and they put together a flowing passing move that culminated in striker Matt Smith finding a well-timed run from midfield by Dan Ginger, making his first start for the Blues, who hammered the ball into the bottom corner with the confidence of an old-timer.
That passage of play proved the decisive turning-point, with the Blues going on to take the lead soon after – an accurate cross from right-back Hugo Sever, another debutant, was met by Smith’s equally accurate header. Confidence was now flowing and despite the pitch beginning to cut up in the wet conditions the tourists continued to play some attractive attacking football, with Tozer unfortunate to see a brilliant curling free-kick come back off the post, before Rubenstein was teed up by Smith to add a third. All in all, it was a satisfying and well-deserved victory.
After the match, the team enjoyed the hospitality of their opposition in the college bar, discussing the game over beers and displaying a range of singing abilities late into the evening. Other off-the-pitch highlights included tours of a Guinness factory and the awe-inspiring Croke Park – the largest amateur sports stadium in the world with a capacity of over 80,000 – as well as the squad trying their hand at some of the famous Gaelic games which take place there. Unsurprisingly, the Blues proved more adept at Gaelic football than hurling, with the latter descending into a slightly farcical game of field hockey.
The event was perhaps hampered by some squad members having enjoyed the sights and sounds of Dublin’s notorious Temple Bar a little too much the night before.
Results on the pitch were made all the more encouraging by the return from injury of captain Jack Fletcher, who managed an hour of football in all having faced a frustratingly lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Michael Moneke was rightly voted Man of the Tour for his excellent defensive displays, but with every member of the squad impressing on the pitch Fletcher will now face some thorny selection dilemmas when the team returns to competitive BUCS action.
The Blues host league-leaders Nottingham Trent at Iffley Road on Wednesday of 2nd week