Aug 26, 2012, 9:58 PM EDT
As the clock hit zero on a muggy night in Alumni Stadium, senior forward Ryan Finley could keep his emotions in check no more. He sank to his knees and cradled his head in his arms as his teammates rushed to surround him. It was a display of unbridled passion by all those involved, one indicative of just how much Notre Dame’s opening matchup against Duke meant to both Finley and his fellow Irishmen.
Less than two years ago, Finley was in the process of closing out yet another brilliant season on the pitch. He led not only his team but the entire conference in goals and points. He garnered numerous accolades for his efforts, including first team all-conference and third team All-American status. But here’s the catch: the conference was not the Big East but rather the ACC, and his team was none other than the Duke Blue Devils. Finley transferred to Notre Dame after two seasons in Durham. Consequently, the senior striker was especially licking his chops concerning Saturday’s season opener.
But Finley was not alone in his anticipation. It quickly became evident that his teammates fully understood just how much the game meant to him, and their tenacity mirrored this understanding. The Irish were relentless throughout, their spirit never broken despite a few tremendous saves by the Duke goalkeeper. And their persistence was finally rewarded in the 76th minute when junior forward Harry Shipp played a ball in the box to none other than Finley, who tapped home the game winner. His utter jubilation after the season’s first goal told the whole story: for Ryan Finley, it was truly a storybook ending.
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