Cahal McAuley speaks to UCD Manager Andy Meyler ahead of the Students’ campaign opener at home against Athlone
UCD A.F.C. begin their Airtricity League First Division campaign at the UCD Bowl against Athlone Town on March 26 as the students look to return to the Premier Division at the second time of asking.
UCD finished in third place last season as their campaign culminated in a devastating extra-time defeat against Longford Town in the play-offs last October.
The students face a difficult task to launch a similar promotion push in the coming season as they will compete in a strong first division line-up which includes League of Ireland heavyweights Cork City and Shelbourne, who drop down from the Premier Division.
UCD have had mixed results in pre-season with a 2-1 win over newly promoted Premier Division Longford Town followed by a 3-3 draw with Bray Wanderers and 2-0 defeats against Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, and St. Patrick’s Athletic, respectable score-lines against some of the strongest teams in the country.
UCD boss Andy Meyler has been satisfied with what he’s seen in the pre-season campaign as he prepares to lead the students into his second First Division campaign as manager. “Overall, very satisfied but pre-season is pre-season it’s about getting shape and tactics, it’s all about these things. You’re not too worried about the results in the games particularly.”
It’s been a busy off-season in terms of transfers at the Bowl with four new arrivals to the squad as the students have brought in defender Sam Todd from Finn Harps, and midfielders Donal Higgins from Galway United, Adam Lennon from Athlone Town, and Sean Brennan on loan from Southampton.
Although UCD have reinforced the squad with new players they have also lost a wealth of experience with the departures of long-serving centre-half Josh Collins who has signed for Waterford FC and striker Yoyo Mahdy who has been snapped up by Shelbourne.
Sam Todd has looked a capable replacement for Collins in the heart of the UCD defence, but the students may struggle without the attacking threat of Mahdy who scored 36 goals during his time with the club and left at ninth place on the club’s all-time goalscoring charts.
Mahdy and Colm Whelan formed a devastating partnership in last season’s campaign as they netted 30 of UCD’s 44 league goals. However, Meyler is confident that the rest of the team can replace the goals lost by this departure.
“I want all of us to step up and fill the gap. We probably didn’t get enough goals from certain quarters of the team last year. We certainly didn’t get goals from set-pieces and we’ll look to improve on that, but we’ll also look to improve on the return from our midfield players and our full-backs that got in attacking situations last year.”
“We defend as a team and we attack as a team, so a player here or there won’t make any difference to our structure.”
UCD ended last season as the most dangerous attacking team in the league but were hampered by one of the leakiest defences in the division, shipping 29 goals, one more than eighth placed Shamrock Rovers II.
The students will struggle to compete for promotion if this problem is not addressed, something which Meyler acknowledges. “I think we need to find a better balance to the play between defence and attack, we need to concede less goals obviously and we’ve been working on that in pre-season about where those goals came from last year. The defensive side is the focus for us.”
It will be a difficult task to tighten up at the back and replace the goals of Mahdy but if the students have been able to work on these sufficiently in pre-season, they certainly have the quality to challenge for promotion once again.
Meyler recognises the quality of this season’s competition but believes that qualifying for the play-offs for a second successive season is a realistic goal to set. “First of all, the aim is at least to get into the play-offs and after that promotion.”
“It’s a strong league, stronger that last year. There’s three full-time teams in the First Division, I’m not sure if that’s ever happened before so we’ll see where we go.”
“We have a good group, we have ambition to at least do what we did last year so we’ll see where that takes us.”