Collie O’Neill’s and subsequently UCD AFC’s rise in recent seasons has been a real success story not only for the “Students” but for followers of the First Division. Qualifying for Europe via the UEFA fair play league in 2015, UCD were given little to no chance of even achieving respectability by critics given their second-tier status.
Despite plying their trade in the League of Ireland First Division, O’Neill’s side would not only progress past Luxembourg based opponent’s F91 Dudelange but would go on to give established European competitors Slovan Bratislava a real scare in the next round. The Slovakian side would eventually run out comfortable winners in the second-leg but the Dublin clubs European adventure would bring in almost €500,000 through UEFA prize money.
Despite following up that European fairytale with some very respectable league campaigns in the seasons to follow, UCD AFC would make a critical decision on the club’s player recruitment policy ahead of the 2017 campaign with scholarship only players now part of the League of Ireland senior squad. Having previously been able to call on experienced and star-studded names such as Jason Byrne and Kieran “Marty” Waters there were now fears that the “Students” may struggle to compete for promotion back to the Premier Division.
Skip forward to present day and Collie O’Neill’s youthful UCD side are just a single point away from capturing the First Division title with just two games remaining in the regular league schedule. As a result, speculation has already begun on what sort of recruitment policy the College may employ should the find themselves in the top-flight next season alongside the power names of Irish football such as Dundalk, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers.
Answering such questions emphatically on last night’s Series 2-Episode 23 of Between the Stripes LOI podcast was UCD manager, Collie O’Neill. Asked if UCD may look to add some experienced professionals to their squad next season O’Neill responded:
“No, not all all. We will stick with the current system if we do or don’t get up (to the Premier Division), it has worked (scholarship only players).”
Going on to describe the reasons why the new player policy at UCD has been so successful, O’Neill revealed a lack of harmony in previous seasons between players studying at the College and those simply signed to play for the first-team.
“They never really felt part of the group (non-scholarship players), there was disharmony in the dressing room where as now we have complete harmony in the dressing room so this is a system we will always work off as it has worked.”
You can catch Collie O’Neill’s insightful chat with Between the Stripes LOI podcast in full on Series 2-Episode 23, which is available for listening on the below SoundCloud player, while you can find the show anytime via a number of platforms such as Itunes, Audioboom, Podcast Republic, Spotify and TuneIn, simply search for Between the Stripes LOI podcast and be sure to hit the follow/subscribe button.