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Irish beat Maryland, 2-1, for first national championship

Vicky Jacobsen | Sunday, December 15, 2013

CHESTER, Pa. – It started with hands but finished with fingerprints.

No. 3 Notre Dame endured questionable hand ball calls to beat No. 5 Maryland 2-1 and claim the program’s first national championship, putting its fingerprints all over the 2013 season and the championship trophy.

Senior forward Leon Brown and senior defender Andrew O’Malley scored for the Irish in the victory at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., on Sunday.

“Being able to take the program from somewhere it’s never been, like an Elite Eight win, to a national championship win, is a huge jump,” O’Malley said. “It’s euphoric.”

Even as the Irish (17-1-6, 7-1-3 ACC) basked in the championship euphoria at the post-game press conference, Irish coach Bobby Clark alluded to the chippy play and controversy on the pitch.

“Obviously, I think we’re all smiling big smiles,” Clark said. “I thought it was a very hard-fought game. Any team coached by [Maryland head coach] Sasho Cirovski is going to be up for the fight. It wasn’t the prettiest game; I think it’s hard to play two games of that intensity in a period of two or three days, but I thought both teams put in a good shift.”

Although both teams had chances to take a 1-0 lead, Maryland (17-3-5, 7-1-3) broke through first, scoring on a set piece in the 35th minute. After the Terrapins played a corner kick into the box, junior midfielder Alex Shinsky came up with possession and took a shot on goal, which was deflected by the elbow of Irish sophomore midfielder Patrick Hodan.

The referees did not call a hand ball – despite the protests of several Terrapin players – but Maryland’s senior forward Patrick Mullins grabbed the rebound, turned around in a crowd of Irish defenders, and knocked the ball into the back of the net to put his team ahead.

It was Mullins’s 19th goal of the season, but after the game he said he used his hand to bring down the ball.

“That’s not who I am, and I’m very disappointed in how that play resulted,” Mullins said. “All I can control is my actions, and I’m not happy with that action.”

The Maryland supporters, who spent much of the game singing songs like, “When the Terps go Marching In,” erupted in a roar of approval, but they were soon chastened by the Irish.

Five minutes later, Irish junior midfielder Nick Besler headed a throw-in from senior defender Luke Mishu to Brown, who was waiting in the goal box. Brown slid and sent the ball sailing into the goal, past the reach of diving freshman goalkeeper Zack Steffen to tie the game at one.

“As a team, one of the mantras we had was to respond to what happened during the game,” O’Malley said. “Not everything is going to go your way as a team, so you try to make sure that you’re mentally strong enough to come back from something like that. Leon [Brown] came in and responded really well with a goal.”

Brown came into the game in the 10th minute as a substitute for junior forward Vince Cicciarelli, who broke his collarbone when he fell over a Maryland defender and landed on his left shoulder. It was Brown’s first goal since Notre Dame’s 3-0 win over Michigan on Sept. 17, and his fifth of the season.

“When we lost our big striker [Vince Cicciarelli] with a broken collarbone, that was a blow, but Leon Brown came in and got the equalizing goal,” Clark said. “We went behind, and that was definitely a blow, but we equalized fairly quickly, and that was Leon that did that.”

A spectacular save from senior keeper Patrick Wall in the 41st minute prevented the Terrapins from entering halftime with the advantage. Shinsky’s header came oh-so-close to crossing the goal line, but Wall grabbed the ball from out of the air and fell the to the ground with the ball just in front of the goal. Wall finished the game with three saves.

The Irish took their first lead of the match in the 60th minute with a header from O’Malley. Senior forward Harrison Shipp had played a free kick into the 18-yard box, which O’Malley redirected into the net.

“Andrew O’Malley stuck that goal away … he missed a few all season, I can tell you, but he saved that goal for the right time,” Clark said. “It was a great goal. It would have been nice, we’d had a couple of chance to make it 3-1 just after that, but we somehow scorned these and I think they just tried to add to my gray hairs.”

Maryland’s last chance at forcing overtime came with one minute left on the clock when they lined up for a free kick. But Mullins’ last-ditch effort missed its mark and sailed away.

Cirovski acknowledged that it was a small consolation that he lost to Clarke. The two first met when Clarke was a veteran goalkeeper at Aberdeen and Cirovski was a young player trying to find his footing in the professional ranks.

“Let me congratulate Bobby Clark and Notre Dame on their first soccer championship,” Cirovski said. “They are worthy winners. I’m genuinely happy for Bobby, for all he’s done for college soccer, and I hope he enjoys this one. To lose today to a great Notre Dame team is no disgrace, nor any shame. There’s heartache and disappointment in our locker room right now, but that will pass.”

Clark, who also coached Stanford to a national title final and won the Scottish Cup, League Cup and Premier League Championship as a player with Aberdeen, said this achievement was one of the best in a very distinguished career.

“It’s unbelievable. This is right up there with any championship I’ve ever won,” Clark said. “I don’t think you judge yourself purely on championships. I think you’ve got to be very careful with that … To get a championship, a lot of things have to come together.”

And that’s exactly what happened for the Irish on Sunday afternoon.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu