Football is returning to the UCD Bowl on Friday the 26th of March. University College Dublin (UCD) take on Athlone Town in the opening game of the SSE Airtricity First Division tonight, nearly five months since the Students heartbreaking playoff loss to Longford Town. Andy Myler’s side will be hoping to go that one step further this season and bring back Premier Division football to Belfield.

2020 – a season like no other

UCD had a mixed start to the 2020 season with a win, a draw and a loss in the opening three fixtures of the season, including a 5-1 hammering at the hands of eventual First division champions Drogheda United on March 6. After which, the league saw a disruption like never before as the government began to implement restrictions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The College wouldn’t take to the field again until the restart of the league in late July.

The Students became the entertainers of the league as throughout the season as their free flowing attacking football was bearing fruit, with notable 6-0 and 8-0 wins versus Cobh Ramblers and Wexford respectively, whilst Myler’s team were also not shy of conceding goals at the wrong end. The strikeforce of Yoyo Mahdy and Colm Whelan proved deadly as both youngsters finished in the league’s top two most prolific goalscorers with Mahdy topping the chart.

UCD managed to finish the season in an admirable third behind Drogheda Utd and Bray Wanderers, guaranteeing themselves a chance of promotion in the playoffs. The aforementioned defeat to Longford put an end to the Students campaign, and Myler will no doubt be using disappointment of missing out promotion as motivation in the upcoming season.

Long shot UCD
Paul Doyle of UCD AFC lines up a long shot at the St Patrick’s Athletics goal that is ultimately saved. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Comings and Goings

The offseason saw the departure of Yoyo Mahdy and defender Josh Collins, two key figures in Myler’s starting XI in previous seasons. Mahdy, who is in the College’s top 10 all time goalscorers, joined the recently relegated Shelbourne in January, and Collins has made the jump up to the Premier Division as he signed for Waterford FC under the management of Ireland legend Kevin Sheedy.

The window also saw the arrival of four new signings to bolster the squad. Sean Brennan joins from Premier League side Southampton after loan spells with Longford Town and Shamrock Rovers II. With numerous caps at underage level for Ireland, Brennan will add real quality to the Students’ midfield. Sam Todd will offer experience from defence with a wealth of Premier Division experience at Finn Harps. The creative midfielder Donal Higgins has travelled east from Galway United to sign for Myler’s side. Finally, Adam Lennon will attempt to fill the void left by Mahdy after being pried away from Friday’s opponents Athlone Town.

“I’m hoping that the new signings provide that competition in the squad. They all have real quality, the four boys that have come in,” Myler praised the quartet after the College’s first preseason friendly.

UCD Corner Kick Defence
UCD AFC’s Sam Todd clears the ball out of his side’s box after a corner kick from St Patrick’s Athletic. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Preseason: tough tests for UCD

Roy Keane once said “some of my hardest games were during the week against my teammates in training, not on a Saturday”. Come the end of the season many of the Students may feel the same way about their preseason friendlies, which saw the College face ‘the creme de la creme’ of the Premier Division.

A 2-1 win against Longford Town in their maiden preseason friendly was followed by losses to Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic. The Students picked up two draws during their preparations with a goalfest against Bray, and ending with a stalemate in their second match against Rovers during preseason.

New Challenges

The First Division will see the introduction of three clubs this season. Cork City and Shelbourne, two of the country’s biggest clubs, enter the league after relegation from the Premier Division. Both sides will be hoping to waste no time in the second tier and clinch automatic promotion at the first time of asking.

Limerick FC’s phoenix-club, Treaty United, will be a brand new team in the league after a successful license bid with the FAI. While Shamrock Rovers II have not been accepted for a second year, meaning the First Division remains a 10 team league.

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Fixture List

Andy Myler will be hoping for the dream start to the 2021 campaign as the Students play Athlone Town on Friday night. UCD did the league double over Athlone last season, who finished second from bottom, which will give the College confidence going into this tie.

Callum Buchan – Sports Writer