Last week as students returned to a bustling campus many of us were taken aback to see the sheer numbers of the crowds. After months of an eerily quiet campus, Belfield sprang back into life. The hustle and bustle of young people filled the air and the joy was clear to see as students reconnected with old friends, or others they may never have seen other than over a zoom call. 

While the crowds make things feel like they are back to normal, there is one important aspect of student life that is still missing. Something that is integral to the college experience of so many. That is sport and the competition, comradery and cheerfulness that comes with it.

Throughout much of the pandemic, the live sport on TV filled a void. Professional and elite sports returned quickly while amateur events had to wait. After this summer where the Olympic and Paralympics, the European Football championships, the Lions tour and the intercounty GAA championships were plastered on our screens you would be forgiven for thinking that as far as sport goes, it was business as usual.

For UCD and its students, however, that could not have been further from the truth. While the pitches of Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium were well worn in, many of the pitches, courts and venues in UCD where students play laid empty for much of the last 18 months. We at the College Tribune spoke to some of the sports clubs on campus that have been affected and also about their delight at sports returning to Belfield for the year ahead.

Some sports had a very difficult task in keeping members engaged during the lockdown. Indoor sports struggled with stricter regulations. We spoke to the PRO of the UCD swimming club, Dylan Carrig, who told us it ‘definitely wasn’t easy,’  particularly when ‘swimming is something that unfortunately doesn’t translate well into a virtual setting.’ Despite the difficulties, Dylan said the committee ‘did an excellent job at trying to engage the club’s members throughout the year.’

The UCD tennis club also had its difficulties. After following Tennis Ireland regulations and doing training for the first 8 weeks, everything completely shut down. The captain of the men’s team Peter Carton told us that it was very difficult as a ‘large part of sport in college is getting out there and meeting people.’  Despite the uncertainty, the enthusiasm from students to play sport was clear to see as membership doubled in the early parts of the last college year.

Similarly, the hockey club was badly affected. Just three games into the league campaign it was suspended indefinitely and only returned to UCD this August for pre-season training. Other sports were able to adapt more easily to the online format like the UCD Judo club. It’s PRO Tiarnach Ó Riada told the Tribune, however, that ‘unfortunately the number of members decreased significantly.’ He followed up by saying that they ‘can’t wait to go back in person!’

Despite the difficulties of last college year, it seems to have only fostered more enthusiasm from committee members to get back to the sports pitches and venues. Dylan from UCD swimming said he is ‘absolutely over the moon,’ after not having been in the UCD pool since March 2020. He said that getting back to training last week was ‘something that myself and everyone else have been looking forward to for quite some time.’

The captain of the men’s hockey team Ewan Ramsay told the Tribune that after a ‘long 18 months with the stop-start nature of the season leading to a fair degree of frustration,’ he is ‘buzzing to be back up training and socialising in what feels like a normal way.’ 

Peter Carton from tennis shared the same sentiments admitting he is ‘buzzing to get back,’ particularly to their training every Tuesday and Thursday. He added the way they break up training for beginners, intermediate and advanced means they ‘offer something for everyone.’ It is also a big year for the tennis club as they host the intervarsities this year. Such competitions are massive social events for sports clubs in UCD and have been severely impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

Given the severe impacts of restrictions, clubs are very eager to get back to normality for competitions and events. The tennis, swimming and judo clubs all spoke of their hopes of intervarsities taking place. For the hockey team, captain Ewan Ramsay said the team is in the top division of the EYHL league and their ‘aim is first and foremost maintain our top division status and then push on to see if we can make the playoffs.’

All clubs spoke of their excitement for the upcoming sports expo taking place this week. Peter Carton of the tennis club has been blown away by the enthusiasm from students so far saying that the ‘email has been hopping,’ and added that they ‘haven’t seen anything like this before.’ 

You only have to take a stroll around last week’s sports expo to see the enthusiasm for the return of most sports to UCD. The university has had a long and proud tradition of success on the sports fields and countless friendships have been made along the way. The clubs based on campus are keen to capitalise on this fervour and are determined to make up for lost time.

Conor Paterson – Co-Editor