The SSE First Division resumed for the Students with a scoreless home draw against Longford Town on Friday, the 31st of July. Christine Coffey talks with UCD AFC Director of Football Diarmuid McNally as the club look ahead to the rest of the season.
After a difficult 2019 campaign in the country’s premier competition and a mixed set of results in their first three games back in the First Division, Andy Myler’s men found themselves fourth in the league ahead of football’s return to the UCD Bowl. The visitors were just one place above them in third place but with a game in hand.
Of the players, the UCD Director of Football David McNally says that they kept themselves fit and in good condition over the lockdown period. Preparation for getting back on the pitch ramped up in recent weeks with friendlies against Dublin-based premier opposition teams St. Pats, Shelbourne, and Shamrock Rovers. Great preparation for the clash against their Longford based counterparts. The favourable set-up in the UCD Bowl meant that there is space for both the home and away sides to have two full dressing rooms each to accommodate for social distancing guidelines, along with adequate facilities for the match officials.
The attendance at football games in the Bowl will also be understandably restricted with only 200 people in total permitted to attend for the foreseeable future, including players and match officials. Unlike the Premier Division, UCD’s league games are not part of the WatchLOI streaming initiative. RTÉ, the FAI and GAAGO have collaborated to deliver this streaming service with pundits and commentary of SSE Premier Division games and some Extra.ie FAI Cup matches. McNally welcomes the new format for the top-tier as a “great idea” and a “positive move, especially since you can’t have the fans at the games”. “TV revenue is important but streaming in conjunction with that works in some countries”. This move towards more coverage of games is a development he would be interested in seeing making its way to the First Division.
In Andy Myler, UCD appointed an experienced coach and former player with in-depth knowledge of Irish football and great familiarity with the UCD setup. Myler began his senior career at the club and went on to cement his reputation as a prolific goal scorer around the league. The Dublin native then rose through the coaching ranks at Shamrock Rovers and was involved in the first team staff and the club’s Premier Division title and Europa League run in 2011. David McNally says “Andy was always someone we were looking to get in…He’s aware of the job ahead of him”. Since returning to the college, Myler had been involved in the UCD’s college and university teams, and as such would be keenly aware of the nature of college football and the turnover of players characteristic of student-based teams. Players move to find new clubs when they are no longer attending UCD and the cycle of rebuilding the squad begins. McNally points to reaching the playoffs as a “realistic” goal for the season, where “anything can happen” for this team with a “three- to four-year plan”.
The club’s success in the First Division in 2018 and resulting promotion probably came a year late, according to McNally, and the return to the top-flight competition wasn’t helped by unfortunately timed injuries and departures. The club now have “a new challenge to build a team good enough to be promoted again”. The current squad features strong options in former Sligo midfielders Jack Keaney and Liam Kerrigan, along with centre-forward Colm Wheelan, all of whom hit the ground running against Longford Town on Friday evening. UCD seemed to start much the brighter side in the game, and their attacking unit was exciting to watch throughout. Longford grew into the second half and enjoyed spells of dominance, but ultimately could not find a way past UCD’s Lorcan Healy. The general consensus was that a draw was probably a fair reflection of the game.
It seems that both UCD’s young charges and the backroom team have prepared for the return of football as best they can. Their efforts translated to a big performance against a strong Longford Town side. Seeing football back in the Bowl is a major success in itself, and will bode well for the college’s rugby team when they eventually get back to AIL action in the Bowl. UCD AFC currently sit 5th in the league, level on points with fourth placed Wexford Youths and face Shamrock Rovers II at home this coming Friday.