Manager: Collie O’Neill/Maciej Tarnogrodzki
Top Scorer: Yoyo Mahdy (5)
Stadium: UCD Bowl
Highest Attendance: 1,609 (v Bohemians, February 22nd, 2019)
Lowest Attendance: 392 (v Finn Harps, July 5th, 2019)
Star Player: Liam Scales
Picking the star player from a side that lost half of their starting 11 midway through the season is no simple task. Captain Gary O’Neill was a constant presence for the first half of the season and, for his leadership as much as his goals, was the catalyst for the form in March and April that suggested the Students would stay up. Centre-half Scales took over the captaincy when O’Neill joined Shamrock Rovers in July but he had already established himself as the defensive lead with keen attacking instincts balanced by great position. He returned to the side in July after his own transfer to Bristol Rovers fell through and found himself playing with an entirely unfamiliar back five but he continued to stand out despite declining results.
Best Young Player: Mark Dignam
The idea of a ‘young’ player at UCD is another slightly absurd concept in a team with an average age of 21. One of the less experienced players, striker Yoyo Mahdy, showed his prowess in front of goal but it was the performance of the versatile left-sided Dignam that really stood out. Dignam had yet to play a game of senior football when regular left-back Evan Osam suffered a season-ending injury on the eve of the kick-off, but he showed few signs of being flustered despite being shifted around from left-back, to left wing-back and left wing.
Best New Signing: Liam Kerrigan
Due to UCD’s unique commitment to scholarship players, opportunities for recruitment in the off-season are rare for the club, so the departure of the likes of Greg Sloggett following the First Division title win was difficult to fill immediately. Jack Keaney and Liam Kerrigan arrived in the summer and, though Keaney arrived as a ready-made replacement for Sloggett with 18 months as a regular starter at the Showgrounds, it was attacker Kerrigan who made the biggest impression. Four goals in the FAI Cup and one in the league were only the beginning of the wideman’s contribution and he will be key to any success Andy Myler’s side have in the First Division next year.
What we expected they would do: 9th
What they actually did: 10th
UCD’s tenth-placed finish doesn’t tell the full story of their season as, until the summer exodus that saw captain O’Neill, Ireland under-21 winger Neil Farrugia and striker Conor Davis depart, they had built up a decent lead over Finn Harps and were well-placed to challenge Cork City, Waterford and Sligo Rovers for automatic survival.
The loss of those players – and a seven-game suspension handed to talismanic goalkeeper Conor Kearns – led to a remarkable slump in form, with a 7-0 loss at Shamrock Rovers and a record 10-1 defeat to Bohemians the nadir, before relegation was finally confirmed.
A 5-2 win over Letterkenny Rovers in the FAI Cup first round was followed up by a stunning 3-1 win over St Patrick’s Athletic following O’Neill’s dismissal, but a quarter-final meeting with Sligo Rovers proved a step too far as the Students were beaten 4-0.
A solid 2-1 win over Shelbourne in the EA Sports Cup was followed up by another quarter-final exit, this time at the hands of Dundalk.
Another solid 4-1 win over Crumlin United opened their Leinster Senior Cup campaign but again they lost out in the last eight, this time going down 3-2 to finalists Athlone Town.
What they need to improve on for next year:
The loss of the bulk of their 2018 First Division squad means the 2020 season will primarily be one for rebuilding with the arrival of new manager Andy Myler. It took Collie O’Neill three years to build his side into a league-winning unit and, with the number of freshers like Colm Whelan, Kerrigan and Keaney set to make up the bulk of this year’s side, promotion in their first season would be a massive bonus, but is by no means a given. The dismissal of their most successful manager in recent times in O’Neill was an avoidable mistake and they would be advised to afford Myler the same room for incremental improvement as they did the Drogheda man in his early years.