Liam Scales, who spent three years at UCD AFC whilst studying Irish and Geography in Belfield, left Shamrock Rovers for Scottish giants Celtic FC for a transfer fee of €600,000 at the end of August. 

The 23-year-old signed a four year deal with the Glasgow club after two exemplary seasons with Premier Division champions Rovers. It was well documented that Celtic were desperate to sign defenders in the summer transfer window with Scales fitting the bill.

The Bhoys’ new boss Ange Postecoglou has praised the former student for his athleticism and versatility, as he is comfortable playing across the left-hand side of the defence. 

Hoops to Hoops

The defender made his debut for the Hoops (of Glasgow, not Tallaght!) a month after joining the club in their 3-0 cup win against Raith Rovers coming off the bench in the second half. Scales has also been a regular fixture in Postecoglou’s matchday squad as an unused substitute. 

If a dream move to one of Britain’s biggest football clubs wasn’t enough good news for the Wicklow native, he soon found himself being called up to the international set-up for Ireland’s world cup qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Serbia. 

When defenders Dara O’Shea and Nathan Collins were ruled out through injury after the Portugal qualifier, Scales’ former under 21 manager Stephen Kenny chose the new Celtic signing to join up with the squad for the subsequent matches.

Breaking through at Belfield

Scales joined UCD in 2016 from Arklow Town as a student-athlete where he broke into the first team under the management of Collie O’Neill. 

The defender quickly impressed at the College and was a crucial part of the side that won the First Division title in 2018 clinching promotion to the top tier. He also won silverware in college football in the form of Collingwood and Hardings cups, the two best honours in the college system. Individual accolades also came the way of Scales as he made it into the PFAI First Division Team of the Year the season in which they won the title. 

Although the College struggled with the step up to Premier Division football in 2019, it was clear that one young defender in the side was well able to compete at this level. During that season, O’Neill eulogised about Scales after an outstanding individual performance against St Patrick’s Athletic saying ‘He’s (Scales) a top-class player and he will go and win league titles with other clubs. But at this moment in time, we’re fortunate to have him.’. 

From strength to strength 

O’Neill was spot on in his prediction of the path that lay ahead for the talented youngster as he signed for Ireland’s most successful club, Shamrock Rovers after UCD finished at the foot of the table. 

Scales hit the ground running at Stephen Bradley’s team as the Hoops won the 2020 Premier Division with ease and the defender was a key part of the success playing in all 18 of Rovers league matches and reaching the FAI cup final against Dundalk, however they failed to secure the double at the Aviva.

Scales continued to impress in the 2021 season as Rovers maintained their spot at the top of the table and had an admirable run in Europe where the defender managed to find himself on the scoresheet on one occasion. 

Off the back of these performances, former professional Graham Cummins described Scales as “the hottest property in the League of Ireland”. It was starting to look inevitable that a move across the pond was in store for the 23-year-old, but not many would have thought it would be to a club the size of Celtic.

Joining UCD royalty 

Liam Scales has joined an illustrious club of players who have gone on to being senior Ireland internationals after plying their trade at the College, although the defender is yet to make his debut for his nation it will be sooner rather than later if his career continues to progress in this manner. Kevin Moran, Enda Stevens and Conor Sammon all spent part of their formative years in the game in the blue of UCD and went on to have stellar careers in football, making it to the top flight in England which is something that remains nothing more than a dream for most who’ve ever kicked a ball on this island. 

Moran won two FA Cups at Manchester United and was a member of three Ireland squads for major international tournaments, Stevens is currently a key part of the Ireland set up since playing two seasons in the Premier League with Sheffield United before their relegation and Sammon has had somewhat of a journeyman career throughout Ireland, Scotland and England yet earned himself nine Ireland caps under legendary manager Giovanni Trapattoni which is testament to his application. The vast majority in the League of Ireland would bite your arm off if they were offered some of these ex Students’ achievements in the game.

Moran, Stevens and Sammon were role models for the likes of Scales in proving that it is possible to make it to the big time in football without going through the ‘traditional route of moving to a club in England in your teenage years. Now the 23-year-old can fill this role for the next generation of young talent at UCD, such as Colm Whelan who is believed to have the potential to follow in the footsteps of these players.

Callum Buchan – Sports Editor