UCD AFC: A season in review

Kevin Beirne looks back on UCD AFC’s most recent League of Ireland campaignIt has been just over two weeks since UCD AFC finished up their 2012 Airtricity League campaign with a tired 1-1 draw with Shelbourne. It was a season in which UCD reaffirmed their status in the top-flight for the third straight season. The Students are even in with a chance of a Europa League berth, thanks to their topping of the Irish Fair Play table.They say a week is a long time in sport, so two weeks thought should be more than enough to review the 2012 campaign with. Although the season was originally contested by twelve sides, Monaghan United’s withdrawal in June left UCD with the second smallest stadium in the now-eleven team league, with only Drogheda United’s Hunky Dorys Park boasting a lesser capacity.UCD’s season began in early March with a 1-0 win at home against Cork City, with Paul Corry scoring an absolute screamer, but it was not a sign of things to come.  UCD would only win one more game over the next five months, although the sole win in this run did come in the form of a 1-0 victory over eventual champions Sligo Rovers.During that time, UCD managed only eight points from 17 games. It seemed the Students were in a hole, and things looked bleak. It was unclear as to whether or not they would be playing in the Premier Division again next season.Despite this poor run of form, UCD showed their resilience and avoided a repeat of the 2008 campaign, during which they were relegated, by finding a new gear in the middle of August with a 2-1 win over Shelbourne at Tolka Park, their first away win of the season. They soon followed up that result with another win over Cork City, before losing to Sligo Rovers.Towards the end of an eventful month for the Students, it was announced that star midfielder Paul Corry had signed for Sheffield Wednesday for a fee believed to be around €90,000. The 21 year old had been on the radar of many an English club for some time, and had turned down advances from Burnley, an English Premier League side at the time, at the age of 18.Corry had decided he wanted to finish his degree in UCD before pursuing a professional football career. Just days before the close of the English transfer window, armed with a recently acquired BComm, Corry set off to join the Championship outfit.Many wondered if the Students could dig themselves out of the hole they were in, especially having lost such a talented player, but they seemed to be galvanised by Corry’s departure. In the eight games following his departure, UCD claimed four victories and only lost twice.Consecutive wins over Bray, Dundalk and then Derry, as well as one against Drogheda in October, allowed UCD to climb to the safety of ninth place, six points clear of tenth place Bray Wanderers and just five points off a Setanta Sports Cup spot.Although UCD will be upset with their slow start to the season, a time which contributed heavily to the Students losing half their games this season, they will no doubt take pride in the fact that they were able to bounce back from such a horrid start.A return of 20 points from their last 12 games will surely put a bit of a gloss on a campaign that was threatening to be disastrous for large parts of the year. No doubt that many in the UCD camp would feel that the season ended too early, as the Students were just hitting their stride.For UCD to have retained their top-flight status for another season in a professional league is nothing short of remarkable. Although there are not millions being thrown around by oil-barons like there are over in England, there is still some money to be made.Manager Martin Russell is all too aware of this, commenting: “It’s been well documented about how difficult it is for the club to hold onto our players, especially after the scholarship years. I understand our financial constraints and all you can really do is try and encourage the next young crop to build on what has gone before.“For all concerned Paul [Corry]’s move was one that was well timed. We were likely to lose Paul to another League of Ireland club at the end of the season, but he has now a great opportunity to develop a career in the pro game.”In looking to the future, Russell remains optimistic about UCD’s chances, drawing inspiration from within the Airtricity League, saying “The achievements of Drogheda United this season have shown that the underdogs will always have a chance, so we will go into next season looking upwards as usual.”If UCD can carry their end of season form into next year’s Airtricity League, then it is conceivable that the Students could be fighting for a place in Europe, or, at the very least, a Setanta Sports Cup spot. With the talent available, and the strong sense of togetherness in the team, it seems like 2013 could be a year to remember for UCD AFC.