Thursday, October 4, 2012


As the League of Ireland lumbered its way past the mid-way point in the season UCD AFC were a team that looked doomed. Rooted to the bottom, winless for what seemed an eternity, the Students looked destined for a relegation showdown. (Mustering just a single victory in seventeen outings didn't do them any favours, either.) As Dundalk, their nearest competitors, inched their way bit by bit away from UCD, grabbing the odd point or three every couple of games, the College were a team desperately struggling for any sort of momentum. After a decent beginning to the season, winning two of their three opening home fixtures - although they were docked three points for Monaghan's withdrawal from the League, which was reckoned to have knocked their confidence a bit - their momentum soon waned, before enduring on a horrid run which culminated in them claiming bottom place, with nowhere to look but down.

But then, fortunately, they were handed a lifeline. The resurgence, initiated through Paul Corry's sublime curling effort in the final minutes away to newly-promoted Shelbourne, saw them slowly move their way up the table. With each victory came a reassurance that they weren't ready to roll over just yet. This unprecedented rekindled sense of spirit set UCD, buoyed on by its young fan base, appealing to such a target market for its tendency to produce attractive football (though sometimes not such attractive results), on their way, having tapped into such a timely rich vein of form, and they haven't looked back sense.

Their form, prior to a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of St. Patrick's Athletic on Monday, read like this: five wins and a draw from their last seven league fixtures. Only St. Patrick's Athletic and Sligo Rovers have bettered that feat and there have been endless theories as to how UCD rode such luck and wriggled their way out of trouble, lengthening the gape between them and Dundalk to ten points with Friday's desperately unlucky draw away to Bohemians. Confirmation of their safety was imminent.

The most obvious of reasons was to do with their dynamic holding midfielder Paul Corry who departed for Hillsborough as deadline day reared its ugly head. His absence, though it was through him UCD kickstarted this run, strangely coincided with UCD's significant improvement in the League and considering he was one of UCD's most cherished players it left the fans slightly baffled. (This theory, that it was basically him alone holding UCD back, was even mooted to him on his Facebook, to which he responded, in obvious sarcastic fashion, "thanks for that enormous boost of confidence".) Martin Russell, the man at the helm at UCD, saw this as an opportunity to shake things up and in came Barry McCabe, while Dean Clark also began featuring prominently as a formation change beckoned. Corry's defensive-mindedness, although useful in breaking up counter-attacks and sweeping up any arising danger, seemed to be holding his team back and the introduction of Clark and McCabe seemed to breath new life into UCD's sails.

The spike in UCD's fortunes also lays thanks to David MacMillan's second-coming. The former St. Pat's talisman netted on his first night back, while the fans took to his presence immediately and showered it with adulation. He preceded to add a handful of more goals, some crucial along the way, as he kick-started The Students' hugely unprecedented revival. His impersonating of Graham Rusk's role - UCD's usual number nine who had too rode his luck early on in the season with his dispatching of a cluster of penalties, but was then sidelined for several moths with a lengthy lay-off - has been to near perfection, averaging a goal every other game since his return, and its no wonder how he's already nailed down a starting slot ahead of Chris Lyons and Cillian Morrison.

The manner of UCD's victories have also warranted high praise for the way in which the club, a football team based as part of the University College of Dublin, has found ways of keeping their head above the water.

This is a side which consists of students currently attending UCD, the college, as opposed to the heaps of professional clubs that actually employ players as part of a full-time job. Currently, the reportedly highest paid player in the League of Ireland, Gary Twigg, receives in excess of €1,000 a week. Those who ply their trade at UCD get a fraction of that sum but they hold an advantage over these players with the education programme they are currently undertaking, which, as well as providing the UCD players with an educational backbone, also lends them an invaluable experience of competing at the highest tier in Irish league football. Many players skip out on education which leaves them in serious trouble if football doesn't work out, which is the case in a lot of cases.

Paul Corry is a fine, and recent, good example of this. The Dubliner, having recently made the daring step of crossing the channel to England, combined studies with football during his four-year stay in college. Although his style of play attracted many potential suitors, he continued his studies, despite Burnley, at the time flying high in the Premier League, enquiring about his services. He left the college with a degree secured and a lucrative move to Sheffield to reward his four years of dedication to UCD, both on and off the pitch.

With the amount of players leaving and returning from abroad having skipped out on education in the process they are served a second-chance at UCD where an opportunity arises to test their mettle against the best in the country. Sure, the devotion to the football programme are significantly less frequent than professional clubs, but the intensity and the competitiveness remain the same as any other team in the League of Ireland and that's, in the end, what makes the football team so unique. Although they invest less time on the pitch than professionally paid players do they still manage to defy the odds, beat the drop and plan ahead for yet another year of top tier Irish football which in itself is a bonus as it at attracts a higher quantity of players and gives the coaches a better pool to choose from when there are new additions to the college each year.

So, as another successful year for the College draws to a close fans can once again look forward to the promise of League of Ireland football at the UCD Bowl next season, a promise that seems all the more remarkable considering the horror run UCD endured for what dragged on for what seemed a lot longer than the four months it lasted.

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