University College Dublin (UCD) men’s rugby team are looking ahead to a strong season, after their Energia Community Series season got underway on Saturday.

The College Tribune spoke with Kevin Croke, the UCD Men’s Rugby coach to discuss how the season ahead looks and what challenges the team are facing with the current coronavirus restrictions.

The team are looking to build on their Leinster Cup victory and the previous year’s success despite the season being cut short in March due to lockdown. Unfortunately, Leinster Cup celebrations were soon replaced with the news that the All-Ireland league could not be played and the season was left unfinished.

Croke described this as “a sense of a missed opportunity,” and that “we had been playing well, we had a good chance to get into a play-off position.” The camaraderie and work ethic of the team “suddenly disappearing overnight was quite tough” and this sense of missed opportunity will be crucial in fuelling the team as they start their All-Ireland campaign in January.

The team has faced two narrow losses over the past few weekends. Collidge made an exceptional comeback against Trinity in the Leinster Senior Cup last Saturday. However, it was not enough as Trinity seized their opportunities and converted more tries.

“There wasn’t a whole lot in it at the end, it was a one score game,“ Croke said. “We gave them the use of the kick, if we didn’t give them those opportunities we may have won the game.”

Croke also suggested that Trinity having a head start, having played an extra warm up game, had a role to play.

“[It can be] quite difficult, particularly with a student playing group as you have fellas that might be down to Wexford for the weekend with their families and their heads not there,” Croke said of the challenges facing the UCD team.

“[Compared to] a non-student club, you’ve got lads who are working from home and are still around and in some ways maybe more flexible and more free to engage with training.”

“College teams tend to be in a constant flux,” Croke said, due to players graduating or going on Erasmus. This means that college teams such as UCD tend to have a “transition period” where the team must adapt and familiarise themselves with new players versus non-student teams who have a strong permanent squad.

With the coronavirus, this season has additional issues and problems for Croke and his team. The huge rest period of six months with no organised activity combined with last minute plans for preseason Croke described as “zero to 100 overnight.”

“Although the lads are young they will probably be fine but you may still get two, three weeks in and you’re gonna start seeing a high incidence of injuries and guys getting hurt,” Croke said.

Croke highlighted there are positives. “We haven’t had a lot of injuries because a part of the restrictions reduces what you do in terms of time, in terms of activities,” he said.

The uncertainty surrounding games has also been “quite tough and off putting” and the team are noticing “little signals that things aren’t quite normal even though the lads are back out doing something.” This season has taken a lot of cooperation from the team to ensure things can “be as normal as possible.”

The boys in blue may not have had the opening games they had hoped for but Croke believes there are definitely many positives to be taken as the team looks forward.

“[I am] just looking to get the basics well done,” Croke said. “Having one or two points of coordination around attack and defence so we can get really solid and low error counts and putting some good sequences of attack in place and making sure we defend with good energy.”

Croke added that “at the end of the day the lads are just happy to be back together training and to have a nice sense of normality.”

Laoise Murray – Sports Writer