The hard work never stops at UCD AFC. Just days after winding down their 2018 League of Ireland campaign, the prospect of intervarsity football loomed large on Belfield for this exceptionally talented young side. Now the 2019 season is already upon us and so has the prospect to top 2018 at the UCD Bowl. As you can imagine, there is huge excitement building around the club upon their return to the Premier Division.

One man who is looking forward to the season starting is UCD midfielder Conor Crowley. Crowley previously played for Dublin schoolboy kingpins Cherry Orchard before working his way up through UCD’s age grade sides. He is now hoping to make his mark on the Premier Division after promotion from the First Division last term.

UCD return to the Premier Division after four years of struggle in the second tier, blighted by misfortune and false dawns. Led by Drogheda native Collie O’Neill, this group of scholarship students took the second tier by storm to win the league in front of a packed-out Bowl on 14th September.

“I’m looking forward to playing in the Premier Division”, Conor told The University Observer on the eve of the club’s return to the top flight of Irish football. “Obviously, it’s going to be a test after getting promoted last year. It will be a completely new experience for us but we’re looking forward to it.”

There has been some notable departures ahead of the new campaign. Greg Sloggett has moved on to pastures new with Derry City, and the lively Daire O’Connor has joined up with 2017 FAI Cup and league winners Cork City. Despite that, 20-year-old Crowley is confident that the squad’s strength in midfield positions will make up for the voids left by both Sloggett and O’Connor. “Daire (O’Connor) and Greg (Sloggett) are two very good players and they’re going to be a big loss for us. However, between myself, Paul Doyle, Richie O’Farrell, Timmy Molloy and Gary O’Neill, I think we have enough strength in depth in midfield to do well and hopefully replicate what we did last year.”

Highly regarded for their open and expansive style of play, akin to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at times, the 2018 Collingwood Cup winner noted that there is no plan to deviate from the style of play which has served them so well thus far. “We won’t really change our style of play too much. I still think we’ll want to play as much as possible and keep the ball. We might have to be a bit more patient because we won’t get as many chances as we did last year in the First Division. Defences will be better and teams will be more organised in the Premier Division, that’s a given.”

Pre-season is different at UCD compared to many other League of Ireland clubs. Since the students are the league’s only third-level side, there is an expectation to succeed in the intervarsities during the so-called ‘off season’. This often gives the Belfield boys an edge when the real thing starts in late February, as seen last year with UCD flying out of the traps in what was an impressive start to their season. The young Dubliner, with the football world at his feet, admits that it does give the squad an advantage in terms of preparing for competitive senior League of Ireland games: “Between the Collingwood and the CUFL, they’re all competitive matches which helps us a lot when we prepare for the new season. Friendlies can often be of slow tempo and not as realistic as a game you would get in the middle of the season. They’re all pressure games in the Collingwood and CUFL because we’re expected to win in each and every game. Therefore, it’s probably better for us doing that over pre-season games instead.”

And finally, after 141 days of waiting, Crowley and his UCD teammates will finally get their chance to play some competitive League of Ireland action, a prospect which most certainly wets the appetite of the well-spoken former Templeogue United schoolboy: “We just want to do as well as possible to be honest. We got promoted for a reason for playing the way we did, and we just want to keep expressing ourselves, try do as well as we can and let’s see where that can take us.”