UCD RFC almost went undefeated in Division 2A of the All-Ireland League last year, losing on the final day to archrivals Trinity. This season, although they gained revenge over their city centre opponents in the Colours match in November, the league has not been so kind to them. Having earned promotion to Division 1B, it would have been unrealistic to expect them to continue winning every game. Now facing much stronger opposition in the form of Belfast Harlequins, Dungannon, and Buccaneers to name just a few, as well as being the only Leinster side in the league, making away games all the more daunting, avoiding relegation was always going to be the objective for 2011/12.
Currently sitting in eighth place in the table, one position above the relegation zone, with two games left to play, Collidge’s season is far from over. Important games against Belfast Harlequins and Dungannon lie ahead.
“We’ve found Division 1B a big step up,” says Bobby Byrne, Director of Rugby at UCD. “We’ve done reasonably well, and we’re hanging in with two matches to go, but we had a really good win against Ballinahinch last week, which gives us a chance of staying up. Considering we have about ten guys in our first team squad that are Under 21, if we did manage to stay in Division 1B this year it’d be very positive for next year. Survival depends on how Galwegians and Bruff do. We suspect that Bruff will beat UCC, so it’s likely that we’ll need to win at least one game, if not both.” UCD have the toughest of the three run-ins and are probably favourites to go down, but two wins will almost guarantee their safety, depending on bonus points.
Judging UCD RFC by league standing alone is unfair, as the youth coming through the system, and individual player performances from young Leinster and Ireland prospects, have to be taken into account. The U21 team won the JP Flanagan League, and are in the final of the Fraser McMullen cup, as well the semi-final of the McCorry Cup. There was also strong representation on the Ireland U20 team this season. “We’ve had five guys in the Irish Under 20 squad with Conor Gilsenan, Jordan Coughlan and Barry Daly along with Luke [McGrath] and Sam [Coughlan Murray],” says Byrne. “Those guys are young players who have a bright future not just in UCD, but in Leinster rugby and maybe further up than that. There won’t be any issue with them staying on next year.”
Grade: B. It was always going to be a season of survival in Division 1B, and even if they go down, they will do so fighting. There is a huge amount of talent coming through the system.
The health of GAA in UCD is invariably going to be measured by the success of the Sigerson Cup campaign for Gaelic football and the Fitzgibbon Cup campaign for hurling. While the O’Byrne Cup and Dublin Championship are realistic goals for UCD, the prestige of the intervarsity tournaments means they are held in the highest esteem for both codes of GAA.
It’s difficult to gauge the standard of a football team from the O’Byrne Cup, since university teams are preparing for the Sigerson Cup while county teams are only beginning to train, but UCD’s four point victory over Laois made a good run in the collegiate tournament look all the more likely. It was to be a false dawn however, as UCD went out to Maynooth in the quarter-finals. A strong 0-13 to 0-4 home victory against Athlone IT set up an away clash with NUI Maynooth. Colm Murphy was sent off for the Belfield side in the thirty-seventh minute for lashing out at Tommy Moolick, and despite a late fight back, Maynooth went on to win 2-8 to 1-8, to continue UCD’s sixteen-year trophy drought in the tournament.
UCD hurlers also had a disappointing campaign in their intervarsity tournament, the Fitzgibbon Cup. A 0-15 to 1-17 home loss to Cork IT in the first game of the round robin qualifier was followed by a 0-13 to 1-13 away win against Waterford IT, to set up a quarter-final clash with University College Cork. UCD had relied heavily on the scoring of Tipperary’s Noel McGrath in both qualifying games, and when UCC were able to keep him to just 0-5 in the quarter-final clash, they were able to claim a seven point win of 1-23 to UCD’s 2-13. UCC went on to lift the cup.
Grade: D. Despite early victories, neither team progressing past the quarter-final is a poor return.
It was an eventful season for hockey in UCD. Belfield played host to the Men’s Olympic Qualifying tournament, witnessing Ireland’s bid for a place in this summer’s Olympic Games curtail at the hands of a last-minute Korean goal. Despite the disappointment, the event as a whole was a success and a good advertisement for the sport in UCD and Ireland, attracting large crowds throughout the tournament, including the final, which saw a full house and was televised at a prime time weekend spot.
UCD’s Men’s First team had a mixed season. While a ninth place finish in the league (second from bottom) is an obvious disappointment, making the final of the Neville Cup on St Stephen’s Day is a positive step, despite the 3-1 loss to Railway Union. Neither side had won the competition before, but goals from Fiachra Maher, Rob Abbott, and Karl Chapple were enough to see off the Belfield side. The Men’s league form has left much to be desired; with just three wins this season, they must now play a Division One/Two play-off in order to keep their top-flight status. As is to be expected from a university team, they are very young, which is reflected in the fact that there are nine UCD players competing in the Ireland U21s Interpros this season.
UCD Women’s First team had a very successful season, winning the Leinster Division One League last week, to add to the Jacqui Potter Cup won in March. The combination of Nicola Gray’s penalty corner slap-shot and former Belfielder Caitriona McGilp’s late goal for Hermes, secured UCD their first ever Leinster Division One title by the narrowest of margins. UCD and Railway ended the league tied on forty-six points, but UCD win the title by virtue of having more wins than their opponents.
Grade: B+. Two cups and two finals between the two teams, but the Men’s performance in the league drags the score down.
Hopes were high for UCD Marian this season, having won the National Cup last year. They failed to live up to expectation however, with choppy form in the Superleague due to injuries stopping the team from building any momentum: “The loss from last year’s team of Barry Glover and Neil Banes was significant,” says UCD Marian Head Coach Fran Ryan. “The other negative was that Dan James missed approximately half the season. Individually a lot of players improved during the year; what people keep forgetting is just how young this team is because there are so many students in it.” Despite their inconsistencies, Marian caused a massive upset in the quarter-final of the league play-offs, beating Bord Gáis Neptune 80-83 in Cork. Though they could not replicate this performance against DCU Saints in the semi-final, the victory in Cork went a long way to restoring confidence for next season.
Their defence of the cup ended early, as they lost out to Limerick in the first round: “We had an away draw in the cup, which is always difficult; the one thing we wanted was a home draw. We ended up being drawn away to Limerick, who won the double in the end, cup and league, and they barely got past us,” says Ryan.
Grade: C. First round cup exit and inconsistent league form, but a big quarter-final win against Neptune gave the season some semblance. The fantastic performance of the Division 1 team also adds to their score.
by Daniel Keenan, Sports Editor
Photography: Caoimhe McDonnell