Manager: Collie O’Neill
Stadium: UCD Bowl
Highest attendance this season: 550 vs Shelbourne (23rd of February)
Highest league goalscorer: Georgie Kelly (14)
Mid-season position: 1st
How we thought they would do
With a favourable fixture list that resulted in Collie O’Neill’s side securing two kind home fixtures against Shelbourne, Finn Harps and Galway United this season, there was a genuine feeling that UCD could capitalise on this great opportunity and finally deliver Premier Division football to Belfield after a three-year spell away from the top table of Irish football. This sentiment was echoed by our very own Dave Donnelly who tipped the Students for a serious tilt at promotion in his UCD Season Preview back in February.
How they really have done
Under the tutelage of the highly respected and supremely talented Collie O’Neill, UCD have set the pace so far in the First Division this season. The Students have racked up some impressive wins on the road against the likes of Finn Harps and Longford Town in recent months and they have shown no sign of slowing down in recent games.
The usual suspects of Gary O’Neill and Georgie Kelly have once again come to the fore for the Belfield outfit while Daire O’Connor and Josh Collins have also starred for O’Neill’s young guns as they look towards achieving the holy grail of promotion back to the Premier Division come the end of the season.
Seeing that UCD were one of the few that managed to keep a hold of many of their stars from previous years gone by, perhaps it is not a major surprise to see the Students top of the pile. However, many outsiders will look at their seven-point lead with raised eyebrows given the youth available to Collie O’Neill and his side.
The Students are a deceptively experienced side, and should they build on their positive first half of the season, the First Division league title will be there waiting for them.
Moment of the season so far
There has been plenty of great moments for the Students so far this season. From mauling Wexford by eight goals to nil at Ferrycarrig Park to taking apart Finn Harps up in Ballybofey, Collie O’Neill’s side have really made many statements of intent throughout this latest instalment of the First Division.
Saying that, the opening day win over Shelbourne at the UCD Bowl will arguably stick out as one of their most important moments this season, so far at least.
After going a goal down, despite dominating proceedings for the majority of the opening half-hour, the Students secured a morale boosting come from behind win over Owen Heary’s Reds at the Bowl thanks to two fantastically worked goals from Greg Sloggett and Timmy Molloy in a blistering 15-minute spell at Belfield during the second half.
With so much experience on the Shels team that night at the Bowl, it was a real signal of things to come from the Students that night, as O’Neill’s side showed that they could easily mix it with the division’s best regardless of age and experience, a motto which has seen them go seven points clear at the midway point of the season.
Star Player: Georgie Kelly
With rumours intensifying that Georgie Kelly may be heading on his way up to Dundalk during this summer’s transfer window, the former Derry City youth has certainly once again taken the First Division by storm this season with his sensational link up play and goal scoring ability.
Already on 14 goals, which is almost as many as his end of year total last season, Kelly has really stepped it up a level in this year’s campaign and it is no surprise to hear that a number of Premier Division clubs are tracking the young stars progress closely.
To his credit, the 21-year-old instinctive finisher has not let the recent interest faze him at all and it is expected that Collie O’Neill’s prized asset will be a key component of UCD’s promotion push, should he stay on campus till the end of the season at least.
Surprise Star Player: Liam Scales
Liam Scales has been one of the major standout stars for UCD so far this season with some matured and consistent displays throughout. After deputising for long-term absentee Evan Osam, Scales has really displayed his fantastic versatility for Students in the absence of Osam.
To date, Scales has grabbed three goals for the Students in the First Division which have mostly come from his head via set-piece routines against the likes of Cobh Ramblers and Wexford in the first half of the season.
Having been one of the few to have featured in every league game for the Students so far this year, one would expect that the 19-year-old will play a pivotal role for the Students as they hunt down that First Division title in the remaining few months of the season.
Young Player: Daire O’Connor
After three years of progress at UCD, Daire O’Connor has certainly emerged as one of Collie O’Neill’s key attacking stars this season.
The Irish Colleges and Universities International has risen to prominence as a creative spark with his blistering pace and technical ability playing a crucial part the Students early season success so far this year.
Only 21, O’Connor has the potential to set the Premier Division alight in future years, but he will be well aware that he needs improve his goal-scoring prowess in the remaining half of the season.
Despite dictating play attacking wise, the Arklow native has only scored three goals so far this season but Collie O’Neill will be more than pleased with the efforts of O’Connor so far as he has certainly created his fair share of goals in his promising first half of the season.
Star Signing: Paul Doyle
Paul Doyle has been one that has impressed the Belfield faithful after he joined from the Sligo Rovers underage set-up not too long ago.
Doyle, still in the formative years of his development as a footballer, has deputised for Gary O’Neill and Greg Sloggett with fantastic composure when called upon.
Saying that, the Mayo man has a long way to go in terms of surpassing both O’Neill and Sloggett, but he has definitely started well in his opening few months as a UCD player without doubt.
What they need to do in the transfer market
Keep Georgie Kelly and Gary O’Neill. Simple as that. Now genuine title favourites, UCD manager Collie O’Neill will surely be hoping that he can keep a hold of his star duo for the remainder of the season.
The Students are unlikely to bring in any outside players during this summer, so it is imperative that they manage to keep a hold of a pairing that has served them so well in seasons gone by.
Should they fend off outside interest in O’Neill and Kelly, it is hard to see anyone but the Students as future First Division champions come September 22.
Where we see them finishing
As mentioned previously, UCD should lift the First Division title if they manage to keep Georgie Kelly and Gary O’Neill come the summer windows end.
With both being such an integral part of the Students side, it will be interesting to see how they may react should one, or both move out to pastures new in July.
It is difficult to see anyone going to the UCD Bowl and beating the Students, as you can see with their imperious home form and their impressive form away from the Belfield Bowl so far this year.
As it stands, the title is UCD’s to lose, but anything can happen in this incredibly unpredictable race for the honours come the end of the season.