UCD offers 60 point top-up to attract elite athletes

Only Trinity of top Dublin colleges shuns extra points for scholarship students

Jonathan Ntoni of Templeogue is tackled by Sam Killenn and Tim Kaye Taylor of High School in the Fr Godfrey Cup yesterday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Jonathan Ntoni of Templeogue is tackled by Sam Killenn and Tim Kaye Taylor of High School in the Fr Godfrey Cup yesterday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho


UCD’s elite athlete academy (EAA) provides a 60 point top-up for Leaving Certificate students identified for scholarships. The DCU scholarship programme provides a “derogation of 30 points for elite athletes” and UCC is rolling out a new scheme this September.

In contrast, Trinity College Dublin insist that any potential scholarship student must meet the CAO criteria.

UCD’s sports scholarship programme began in 1997. Brian O’Driscoll was one of the first recipients, with the EAA introduced in 2010 to cushion the pathway into professionalism and elite amateur pursuits, while also giving their athletes plenty of scope to attain a degree. Currently, 13 rugby players, including Ireland international Seán O’Brien, make up UCD’s 60-strong EAA, which is part of the overall Ad Astra (to the stars) scholarship programme.

The Ad Astra academy also includes performing arts and academic scholars.

“The main difference with the EAA and rugby club scholarship is there is a 60 points allowance,” UCD director of rugby Bobby Byrne informed The Irish Times, in an interview to be published in today’s Schools Rugby supplement.

“Interestingly, of all the guys we have in the EAA, only two have availed of that. It is not as big a deal as people think it is but if guys are trying to get into, say, physiotherapy it is a major advantage.”

To gain entry to physiotherapy in UCD last year required 545 points in the Leaving Cert but an EEA scholar would only have needed 485 points. However, to matriculate, the university requires a minimum of 320 points.

“We offer between seven and nine scholarships each year, with two or three going into the EAA,” Byrne explained. “They get academic mentoring so if they need any grinds and there is timetable flexibility if they are away with international teams.”

There is a bursary of around €5,000. “They get an allowance towards the registration fee and they get accommodation on campus and part of the cost of accommodation is looked after and access to all the facilities on campus.”

UCC is poised to offer a similar CAO points dispensation to elite athletes who don’t reach the entry requirements for undergraduate courses. Its new initiative, known as the Quercus (Oak) programme, will facilitate five elite athletes, probably one rugby player, along with a similar number of scholarships across four other categories: active citizenship, innovation and entrepreneurship, creative and performing arts and academic. “Proving you get the minimum matriculation requirements, therefore you prove yourself academically, irrespective of whether the points go up or down.

A provisional offer will be made after interviews in March,” explained UCC director of rugby Gary Byrne. “It may even go beyond 60 points, it’s not points-specific.”

Trinity College Dublin, while offering a comprehensive scholarship programme, insists on students gaining entry by attaining the stated entry requirements. “Since UCD have introduced the elite scholarship it has really tilted the field toward them,” said Dublin University director of rugby Tony Smeeth. “There has been a real lean towards sport in Trinity in recent years but they won’t entertain the points break. The best 10 players go there and the next 10 players tend to go there as well as good players want to be around the best players. It makes it hard to compete but we do compete.

“I don’t really know why [UCD] are doing it because the players they are targeting are Leinster players. They are basically committed to Leinster, as they should be.

“Our players are all committed to playing for Trinity while many UCD guys have an eye on Leinster.”

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