Not many people’s favourite’s for automatic promotion at the start of the season, UCD are just a point away from a return to the top flight. But after Friday’s surprise 2-1 win over Premier Division side Waterford in the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup quarter-final, suddenly The Students can have ambitions of a double.
Granted, they will be the least-fancied side left in competition, with Dundalk and Cork also progressing on the same night, and Derry to play Bohs in just over a week’s time to complete the last four line-up.
For manager Collie O’Neill though, the current status of the team is a reflection of hard work, as he explained to our reporter Peter Branigan.
‘It’s a nice play to be. It’s enjoyable. It’s why you do the work. It’s why the players did their Christmas programme, and off-season additional gym work.
‘Now they can go and compete physically with a team like Waterford, who are really big and strong. We’re seeing the fruits of our labour.
‘We’ve put ourselves in a position, but we still haven’t won anything yet. So now we have to go the extra little bit, and see everything through.’
The victory over Waterford was thoroughly deserved. After a slow start, College settled into their normal pattern of play, keeping the ball on the deck, and trying to pass around their opposition.
O’Neill is clear as to where his priorities lie.
‘I’d still swap the win over Waterford for a win next week (against Finn Harps). The performance was the most pleasing part.
‘We played good football in the first-half, and then, after the break, we had to role up our sleeves, win headers, and second balls. The hard graft. It was pleasing to do both aspects of the game.
‘Gary O’Neill is a calming influence in the side. When we did get the ball back, we were able to keep it, and move it. We’ve some really good players in there, some good talent in that dressing room.’
The biggest surprise was perhaps that keeper Conor Kearns had very little to do on the night. He commanded his area when he needed to, and O’Neill seemed most proud of his defensive unit.
‘(Liam) Scales, and Josh (Collins), and Evan (Osam), and Dan (Tobin) winning all their headers. They did such good defensive work.
‘If you talk to anyone around the League, and you say to them that you’re going to play UCD, they will say, “throw it in at them. They don’t like defending.” People don’t realise, because they haven’t seen us too much over the last few seasons, that these players have grown and developed.
‘Throw it in there and we’ll mop it up! We can do both sides of the game now.’
With Cobh to come to Belfield on Friday, the First Division title is within their grasp. And while a draw would be enough, O’Neill says they will be going out to win the game.
‘Absolutely, there’s no point in changing what we’ve done all year long for just one game.
‘I think when teams only need a point, you see them not fulfilling their potential. They sit deep, and give up chances.
‘No. We’ll go try to win the game, like we normally would.’
Four games left this season, with two trophies up for grabs. These are exciting times at the UCD Bowl.