Meet Our Opponents: UCD AFC
(first published in the August 2009 UCD match programme)
UCD have been a League of Ireland team only since 1979, but they have a long history in the domestic game, and are in fact one of the country’s oldest sides.
As UCD AFC they began life in 1908, although that team was a result of a merger with a Catholic University Medical School team that had been in existence since 1895. With an endearingly elistist ethos, not uncommon in those times, the First XI played solely against other University teams, while the Second XI took on opponents from outside the groves of academe.
Founder members of the Leinster Junior League in 1896, the Students reached the semi-finals of the Leinster Senior Cup in 1897, and over the following years they were involved from the outset in some of the country’s foremost competitions. In 1914, now as UCD AFC, they lifted the inaugural Collingwood Cup, and they took part in the first ever FAI Cup competition in 1921, losing in the preliminary round to another non-league outfit named Shamrock Rovers. In between, they had added the 1916 IFA Intermediate Cup to their trophy cabinet, one of the few teams from outside of Ulster to lift the trophy, run under the auspices of the IFA who were in charge of football on the whole island at the time.
UCD were invited to participate in the inaugural FAI League season in 1922, but they were forced to decline, as they could not field a team for that year’s Shield competition in September, due to the academic year not beginning until October! It was to be a further 57 years before they would take their place in the top flight. The club moved to Belfield Park in 1935, and took part in FAI Senior Cup competitions all through the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, and they also won the FAI Intermediate Cup in 1945, beating Cobh Ramblers in the final. They disappeared off the radar somewhat in the 1960s, but the following decade, in part inspired by the arrival of Dr Tony O’Neill on the scene, the club stepped into the limelight once more.
Having become a League of Ireland ‘B’ outfit in 1970, UCD embarked upon a series of tours over the following years, becoming the first Irish team to play in countries such as Jordan, Australia and China. A certain Kevin Moran, as well as playing county football for Dublin at the time, was a UCD player in the late ’70s, helping them to another Collingwood Cup in 1976. One player who most certainly was not, however, despite a persistent urban myth to the contrary, was Socrates. In fact, as far as can be ascertained, the Brazilian midfielder has never so much as set foot in Dublin.
Under the stewardship of the Doc, and with Theo Dunne in charge of coaching duties, UCD finally joined the League in 1979. They struggled initially, although they did win the Leinster Senior Cup in 1980, but in 1983 they opted to turn semi-professional, with players from outside the college allowed to line out for the first team, Leeds legend Peter Lorimer briefly being one of them. Immediate rewards were reaped with the FAI Senior Cup in 1984, and a glamour Cup Winners Cup tie against Everton the following year, with the Toffees barely scraping through by a 1-0 aggregate scoreline, on their way to lifting the trophy that year.
Success was fleeting, however, and College suffered relegation in 1986, destined to spend almost ten years in the basement, bar one season back in the top flight in 1989/90, when they passed us on the way down. They did, however, win their one and only World Collegiate Championship in New Mexico in 1987.
The 1990s saw a greater period of success, winning the First Division Shield in 1992 and ’95, and their only First Division Championship also in ’95. A fourth placed finish in the 1999/2000 season saw them pitted against Bulgarian side PFC Velbazhd in the following year’s Intertoto Cup, going out on away goals after hugely creditable 3-3 and 0-0 draws.
Into the current decade, the side have continued to yo-yo somewhat, going down in 2003 despite Pete Mahon’s best efforts at the helm as they posted a record points total for a relegated team. They returned to the top flight in 2004, only pipped to another record total by a single point by Finn Harps. They also reached the League Cup final twice this decade, beaten 5-3 by St Pat’s in 2001, and 2-1 by Derry City in 2005, the first of the Foylesiders’ 4-in-a-row. The Students moved to their new Belfield Bowl ground for the start of the 2008 season, but another relegation saw them join us in the second tier at the end of that year. Without doubt their arrival has hugely increased competition for the promotion spots in what has become a very competitive First Division.