UCD on the brink of adding to their rich history
Collie O’Neill’s side need just a point against Finn Harps to win the First Division title
UCD’s Timmy Molloy celebrates scoring their second goal of the game during the recent FAI Cup win over Waterford. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
When asked why he attended UCD soccer games Dermot Morgan once replied “because I hate crowds”. However, those who do attend at the Belfield Bowl frequently witness sporting history.
Prior to being relegated in 2014, UCD was for a long time the only university in Europe to field a team in their national first division. However the good times are about to return as an unbeaten run dating back to June means that a point against Finn Harps on Friday night will ensure that UCD are promoted back to the Premier Division as champions.
The Belfield side have also qualified for the semi-finals of the FAI Cup for the first time in 11 years. This cup run has included one extraordinary match against CIE Ranch in which UCD were 2-1 down in the last minute before recovering to win 6-2 (in the previous round CIE Ranch had beaten their rivals Dublin Bus in a match labelled ‘El traffico’).
In addition, UCD have by some distance the best disciplinary record in the league continuing a long tradition that in 2014 enabled them to become the last ever side to qualify for the Europa League through good behaviour via the Fair Play League despite having been relegated.
The resurgence of UCD as a footballing force merits a review of its glorious sporting history.
Remarkably the most famous ‘player’ in UCD’s history never actually turned out for the club. According to persistent urban legend Socrates played for the UCD reserve team whilst a medical student in Dublin in the 1970s.
It is unclear how this rumour started. True, Socrates did qualify as a doctor. Less explicable was the paradox of a footballer simultaneously good enough to captain an outstanding Brazilian side in the 1982 World Cup finals yet not quite good enough to make the UCD first team.
Some variations of the story had the manager issuing an ultimatum to Socrates to either quit smoking or quit soccer only for the Brazilian to elect to forgo the latter pleasure. Others had Socrates refusing to play on a Sunday. In any event the myth persisted until shortly before his premature death aged just 57 in 2011 when Socrates revealed that not only had he never played for UCD but had never set foot in Ireland.
UCD’s greatest moment came in 1984. After winning the 1983 FAI Cup with a 2-1 replay victory over Shamrock Rovers the students qualified for the following season’s Cup Winners Cup where they faced Everton in the first round. Many feared a heavy defeat, perhaps even one to match Tottenham Hotspur’s 14-0 demolition of Drogheda United in the previous season’s Uefa Cup. But, at a packed Tolka Park, UCD held an Everton side including Kevin Sheedy, Trevor Steven and Peter Reid to a 0-0 draw.
A fortnight later at Goodison Park, UCD came within inches of pulling off the greatest shock in the history of European club football with a shot that grazed the Everton crossbar in the dying moments of the match. This incident is recalled in detail in the autobiography of Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall who explains “in the European Cup Winners’ Cup first round we played University College Dublin – a student team basically. Everyone expected a walkover, but they held us to a goalless draw in Ireland and in the last few minutes of the second leg at Goodison had a shot that clipped my bar. We were winning 1-0 at the time but had it gone in they would have gone through on away goals.”
Boosted by their narrow escape against the students, Everton went on to have the most successful season in their history winning both the Cup Winners’ Cup and the League Championship. But UCD would have a further hand (or at least a lunging foot) to play in the Merseyside club’s fortunes that year.
With such an incredible history UCD’s football team deserves to get more coverage
Everton’s last game of the season was the FA Cup Final which they entered as hot favourites to beat Manchester United and complete a historic treble. The match’s iconic moment came in the 78th minute when, with the game scoreless, an under-hit Paul McGrath pass was intercepted by Peter Reid who suddenly found himself through on goal leading a three-on-one breakaway. Unfortunately for him the one in question was Kevin Moran – a legendary graduate of both the UCD Collingwood Cup team and its soccer club – who stopped Reid’s progress with a hybrid tackle that drew liberally from both codes of football and rendered the England international momentarily airborne.
Seconds later the most famous member of the UCD Commerce class of 1976 became the first man ever to be sent-off in an FA Cup Final; an incident that subsequently sparked days of anguished debate over whether the Dubliner ought to be stripped of his winner’s medal.
The 1984-85 season was to be as good as it got for UCD which, for financial reasons, had to sell its star players including Joe Hanrahan who went to Manchester United.
A year later UCD were relegated. Dreams of European trophies won by world-famous Irish internationals are still turned into reality on campus but these days it happens at Leinster Rugby whose headquarters are located at Belfield. The soccer team is reduced to supplying talent to rival clubs. Half a dozen of the Dundalk squad rapidly closing in on their fourth Premier League title in five years are former UCD players.
When at the end of the month we play Dundalk in the semi-final of the FAI Cup we are also likely to face Georgie Kelly a player so talented that with 14 goals he remains UCD’s leading scorer for the season despite having departed for Oriel Park in June. Other such as Dylan Watts (Leicester), Paul Corry (Sheffield Wednesday), Gary Dicker (Stockport) Ryan Swan (Exeter) and Simon Power (Norwich) have earned moves to England.
Most successful of all was Connor Sammon (the “Sammon of College”) who went on to earn nine full caps for the Republic of Ireland. This conveyor belt of talent is likely to continue now that the UCD squad consists entirely of students on scholarships that enable them to combine football with their third-level studies.
With such an incredible history UCD’s football team deserves to get more coverage. Gil Scott-Heron famously wrote that “the revolution will not be televised”. It is unlikely that the American poet was a UCD fan but the Belfield faithful understand his observation with our league matches rarely getting any coverage on television even on specialist shows such as RTÉ’s otherwise excellent ‘Soccer Republic’. Hopefully success this season will once again cause people to take note of the proud soccer fortress at the Belfield Bowl.
James McDermott is a law lecturer in UCD and an ardent soccer fan