UCD AFC was the one team that bucked the trend regarding the halt of sports in the last academic year in Belfield. Since returning in July 2020 from when the initial COVID restrictions began, the Students have continued to play throughout the pandemic.
Despite the setback of the promotion playoffs defeat to Longford Town in a five-goal thriller at the Bowl, the Students have shown real character in bouncing back this season as they currently sit second in the First Division as the league’s top goalscorers.
Whilst also having an admirable FAI cup run making the quarter-finals but coming up short against the premier divisions Waterford FC last Friday night. The College Tribune spoke to Andy Myler to hear his thoughts on the ups and downs of the season, the challenge of facing Waterford in the cup and Colm Whelan playing international football.
Quick Out of the Blocks
UCD began the 2021 First Division season in flying form as the College went the opening eight games unbeaten both home and away after beginning the campaign with a 2-2 draw with Athlone Town.
During this purple patch, the Students had a couple of convincing wins on their travels against Cobh Ramblers and most notably a 6-0 win in Wexford. The strike partnership of Colm Whelan and Liam Kerrigan was proving deadly for opposition defences. The prolific Whelan managed to score eight times in as many games during this period with Kerrigan’s tireless work facilitating many of these, whilst also chipping in with three goals himself.
The College found themselves sitting top of the league, with a superior goal difference separating them and Shelbourne, after beating newly formed Limerick outfit Treaty United 3-2 on May 7.
Following the near-perfect start to the campaign, UCD faced Shelbourne at Tolka Park in a top of the table clash. The Reds came out victors in this affair as they won 3-1 on a night where they were clearly the better side. This proved to be somewhat of a turning point for Andy Myler’s fledglings as they found themselves struggling to regain the momentum which saw them beating all that was in front of them in the opening games of the season.
This bad run of form reached its nadir with a 2-1 loss at home to the team currently sitting second from bottom Cobh Ramblers, whom the College had previously beat 4-0 in the reverse fixture.
We asked Myler how he ensured that his team got back to winning ways after the midseason blip. “We just knuckled down and worked through it”, he said in response. He credits his players for showing the grit and determination to come out stronger on the other side of this slump “The good form we are in at the moment is only a function of the work put in by the players in training and games”, Myler added.
Colm Whelan – For Club and Country
Colm Whelan’s exceptional play for the College was rewarded with a call up to the Ireland under 21 set-up. It is rare that a player in the First Division puts on the green jersey which is a testament to how well the striker is doing this season.
Whelan came off the bench on his debut versus Luxembourg and marked it with a goal only minutes after entering the pitch. When prompted how this made his club manager feel “All the players and staff at the club are proud of Colms achievements with the 21s. To score goes to show how well Colm can operate at that level”, Myler said.
Regaining Form at the Business End of Season
UCD drew First Division leaders Shelbourne in the first round of the FAI Cup as they looked to try and turn around their bad patch. Against the odds, the Students beat Shels 2-0 on the night through goals from Whelan and defender Harvey O’Brien as they progressed to the next round of the cup. This win proved to be the catalyst for the College’s recent positive results in the league reclaiming second spot.
The Students also beat Longford to secure a place in the quarter-final of the cup against the Premier Division’s Waterford, led by the exuberant cockney manager Marc Bircham. “We are comfortable that we are fit enough to live with the pace of the Premier Division. A key part for us will be to defend well for the full game and try to exploit the areas where they are not at 100%”, Myler explained how UCD could cope with Waterford before the game. Unfortunately, Waterford proved too strong for the Students in the end putting a stop to the College’s cup dream.
UCD will be hoping for a strong end of the season in the remaining five games to carry over to the playoffs, with Shels all but securing the automatic promotion slot, in order to ensure the best chance of securing promotion this year.
Callum Buchan – Sports Editor