This time last year UCD AFC were certainly not sitting at rock bottom of the league. In fact, the Students were in the midst of a competitive promotion dogfight. Thanks to better form in the second half of the season and a faultless playoff campaign, UCD returned to the top division of Irish football.
The same grit and character which propelled the College back to the top flight is needed if Andy Myler’s young side is to have any chance of remaining in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division next season. Sitting at the foot of the table, two points behind 9th placed Finn Harps, UCD AFC are certainly down, but they are not out.
It took 15 games for UCD to register their first win courtesy of a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Harps earlier this month. After danger man Colm Whelan was forced off with a serious knee injury, the Students’ season looked in peril midway through this crucial clash against their relegation rivals. However, the side that battled its way to promotion against the odds last year managed to dig deep and found a winner thanks to a Liam Kerrigan header 10 minutes from time.
The fate of Kerrigan may be a decisive factor in the team’s fortunes in the latter half of the season. The Sligo native has attracted plenty of interest elsewhere for his impressive 12 goal tally last year in the First Division and his quality that has been on display this season.
The Students are far more than a one-man team, however. The centre back duo of Eric Yoro and Sam Todd have proven to be more than capable of handling some of the best the top division has thrown at them this season. Jack Keaney has been solid at the base of the midfield while Evan Caffrey looks to be improving in each passing game.
While the devastating injury to Colm Whelan has certainly made the survival task more difficult, the strength in depth of the College was evident in last night’s 1-1 draw against Sligo Rovers at the Bowl. Dylan Duffy led the line impressively and managed to score the equaliser for the Students while the introduction of Alex Nolan, Tommy Lonergan and Donal Higgins meant UCD looked the more likely to find a winner against the Bit O’Reds.
Speaking to Irish Football Fan TV after last night’s game, UCD manager Andy Myler said UCD turned out “another good performance,’ adding that ‘sometimes our performances haven’t turned out in results.”
Myler went on to say “there are lots of positives to take from the first part of the season. Guys are learning on the job (…) we are excited to see what the second half (of the season) brings.”
While fans at the Bowl have yet to see a home win this season, there has certainly been plenty of encouraging performances and well-earned points including against Shelbourne, Bohemians and Dundalk. As the young side continues to adapt to the challenges of top-flight football in a competitive league, the task will be to convert some of these performances into three points.
After a short summer break, the College travel to 8th place Drogheda United on the 10th of June. Back in March, the Students suffered a disappointing 4-2 defeat to the Drogs. The upcoming clash will be a fascinating test to see if this talented UCD side have progressed and can turn against the tide of relegation.
Conor Paterson – Co-Editor