Club: UCD AFC.
Manager: Collie O’Neill.
Stadium: UCD Bowl.
Highest attendance this season: 500 (estimate) -v- Limerick FC (April 22nd).
Highest league goalscorer: Gary O’Neill (5 goals).
Mid Season League Position: 3rd.
How we thought they would do
With Limerick been the only SSE Airtricity League First Division side that are full-time professionals, league glory was always going to be a difficult task for the College. However, after manager Collie O’Neill retained the spine of his side which reached the play-offs and the second round of the Europa League qualifiers, the Students were expected to push on and challenge for a play-off spot as they look to return to the Premier Division for the first time since 2014.
During the close season, O’Neill made a big statement with the signing of Shamrock Rovers star Kieran Marty Waters along with Jason Byrne to add to the firepower of Ryan Swan up front. It was expected with that trio, along with players such as Gary O’Neill, Jack Watson, Cathal Brady and Mark Langtry, the Students would be a hard side to beat having gone 17 league games unbeaten last season before being defeated by Finn Harps in the play-offs.
How they really have done
In a season that the Students were expected to flourish with a side who had an additional year's experience under their belt, along with success at College level, O’Neill's side has found consistency hard to come by. During their opening ten games they recorded just three wins, two of those victories coming away from home against Cobh Ramblers and Shelbourne FC.
Despite theses inconsistencies, the Students ensured they entered the break on the back of some positive league form with three consecutive victories against Cobh Ramblers, Athlone Town and Shelbourne FC, scoring seven goals and conceding twice.
With recent success in cup competitions being limited for the Students, 2016 has marked an upturn in their domestic cup form. Despite an early exit in the EA Sports Cup against Premier Division side Bray Wanderers, the College would turn the tide when the sides met again in the second-round of the FAI Cup. A Ryan Swan strike would ensure they recovered from letting a three goal lead slip to book their place in the third round of the FAI Cup for the first time in since 2012.
Moment of the season so far
When UCD welcomed Cobh Ramblers to the UCD Bowl on May 13th, the Students were in danger of dropping down to fifth place and letting their play-off hopes slip away if they did not stop the rot. In the sunshine of Dublin 4, Collie O’Neill’s side produced a sublime display with goals from Greg Sloggett, Gary O’Neill and Ryan Swan ensuring College ended a run of four league games without victory.
After defeating Shelbourne in their final game before the mid-season break, UCD Skipper O’Neill revealed to Extratime.ie that his side held a meeting about their poor run of form and this meeting allowed them “put a few things right."
Star Player – Gary O’Neill
The captain, who joined UCD in 2015 from Hereford United, has shown that he has the ability to reach the top of Irish football. O'Neill's displays in the centre of the Students' midfield during the opening 13 games have shown why he was once tipped to be a huge success when signed by Wolves in 2013.
After struggling to find the back of the net in his first season with the Students, scoring three times in 28 league games, O’Neill has already bettered that tally in the first half of the current campaign, finding the net five times in the 13 games to date.
The skipper, who also captained both of the college's successful Harding and Collingwood Cup teams in 2015, has also shown his prowess from set-pieces with the midfielder scoring several times from deadball situations at crucial time for the Students.
Surprise star player – Greg Sloggett
After missing a large portion of the 2015 season through injury, and despite UCD having a strong midfield before his return, the 19 year old has shown his excellent ability on the ball, proving to be a key cog in the Students' midfield in recent weeks, striking up a strong partnership with skipper O’Neill.
Young player – Jason McClelland
The winger, who made one appearance for the Students during the 2015 campaign, has shown his abilities down the flank and his performances have been rewarded with a starting place in the Students' last six league outings.
After making eight appearances in the opening 13 games, McClelland has shown he is capable of beating defenders and getting deliveries into the box for the UCD front men. In his final outing before the summer break, McClelland opened his goalscoring account for UCD when he fired past the onrushing Shelbourne goalkeeper from an acute angle in a 2-0 victory.
Star signing – Georgie Kelly
After signing for UCD from Derry City, Kelly has proven to be a handful for opposition defences. Despite only starting six games for the Students, the forward has found the net on three occasions, and twice his goals have proven to be match-winning ones.
What they need to do in the transfer market
After an injury hit season for the Students, Collie O’Neill will be hoping he can secure additional resources in defence with his side conceding 19 goals in 13 games.
In addition to extra defenders, the Students may enter the transfer market for an additional striker to reduce the burden on players such as Gary O’Neill and Maxim Kouogun to provide additional goals to Georgie Kelly and Ryan Swan who have a combined total of seven in 13 games compared to nine for O’Neill and Kouogun.
Where we see them finishing
If UCD can pick up where they left off before the mid-season break, O’Neill has the squad to overtake Drogheda United for second place. However, if they have do not resurrect the form that saw them finish with three league wins in a row before the break they could be drawn back into a dogfight for a play-off position, with both Cobh Ramblers and Shelbourne within touching distance of UCD.
The reduced pressures of no Europa League football should also benefit UCD as towards the back end of 2015 they looked a tired side and while I’m sure lessons have been learned by the management, I predict that they will finish the job they failed to do in 2015 and gain promotion to the Premier Division.