UCC offers a path back to the top for promising young soccer players 

UCC offers a path back to the top for promising young soccer players 
Rockmount's Kevin O'Connell wins this header from UCC's Rian O'Sullivan in the Beamish Stout Munster Senior League Senior Premier Division game at The Farm. Picture: Denis Minihane.

RIAN O’SULLIVAN is hoping long term to use University College Cork to provide himself with a launchpad back into professional football.

After spending a number of years in the underage setup at Brighton and despite having offers to go on trial at other English and League of Ireland clubs, O’Sullivan, from Camp in Co Kerry, decided to come back to Ireland to concentrate on getting a college degree behind him.

UCC are providing the 20-year-old with the platform of being able to combine getting a good education, alongside keeping up the footballing side of his life, with access to top quality facilities such as at the Mardyke.

Studying Commerce, O’Sullivan is enjoying life so far with UCC. “I have been very impressed with it. The facilities are very good at the Mardyke and The Farm. So the training facilities are good for soccer.

“I am on the Quercus Scholarship, so I am also getting good academic support with stuff such as grinds for college. Overall it is working out good for me. So it was probably the best place for me to go to get the best of both worlds, continuing to play soccer at a good level and getting a good degree behind me as well.”

Playing for UCC is a good test for a young footballer to develop on a number of levels. With the Cork college at the moment are the likes of Gordon Walker, who started in the EA Sports Cup final in 2018 for Cobh Ramblers against Derry City at the Brandywell.

While there are a few examples of players who have used third level football to develop their game, before moving on into a decent standard of first team football such as the League Of Ireland.

“The standard is quite good. At the start of the year we would have played in the CUFL, which was quite decent,” says O’Sullivan of the games he has played with UCC.

“We played a good few teams that would have League Of Ireland players dipping in and out for certain games.

“Then you have the (Munster Senior) League which is very competitive, there is a few teams up around first to fourth place, so it is quite competitive.

“We played Cobh in the EA Sports Cup and that was a good game. There also was the Collingwood, so there is a good few tournaments that we have been involved in.”

Rockmount's Kevin O'Connell looking for a way past UCC's Rian O'Sullivan. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Rockmount's Kevin O'Connell looking for a way past UCC's Rian O'Sullivan. Picture: Denis Minihane.

The former Tralee Dynamos man initially made the move to England and signed for Brighton in 2015, with a number of other clubs cross channel also showing interest in securing his footballing services.

O’Sullivan was a regular presence for Ireland at underage level, featuring for his country to date from U15s to U19s. While he was in the Irish U19s for example, O’Sullivan was in the starting lineup and in the same squad with the likes of current Southampton attacker Michael Obafemi and Jonathan Afolabi, currently at Dunfermline Athletic on loan from Celtic.

During his time at Brighton, O’Sullivan trained with the first team squad on a number of occasions. O’Sullivan played alongside a number of Irishmen while he was at Brighton underage in Aaron Connolly (Brighton), Jayson Molumby (Millwall) and Danny Mandriou (Bohemians). 

“It was a good experience. Football-wise it was quite good, but also the maturity of it. You have to learn to adapt to different surroundings and stuff,” reflects O’Sullivan on his time at Brighton.

“I definitely learned a lot about myself, a lot about how to develop faster in games and playing at different levels I played two years with the Brighton U18s and a year with the U23s. I then had two six month spells out on loan to teams in the English Leagues.

“So it was quite challenging to be fair.”

On an overall level, he reflects on his spell at Brighton as one where valuable experience was gained.

When he completes his time at UCC, the intentions and hopes of O’Sullivan will be to try and get back into a full-time footballing environment.

Having trained week in and week out with the likes of Connolly, who has showcased his skills in the Premier League for Brighton this term and also Molumby, who is now impressing with Millwall, it gives O’Sullivan the inspiration to seek to get back to a similar platform.

Sean McLoughlin, currently with English Championship side Hull City, is a prime example of someone who has used UCC to help develop himself as a footballer.

O’Sullivan is a man that is totally determined to forge a career if possible in football down a similar sort of path.

He will hope to move on to the next level of the footballing pyramid once he completes his degree at UCC.

“That was my plan, to come home and work on a few areas that I need to improve on and get a degree behind me.

“Then go at the football again, with the football behind me and a Plan B in place. As you can see, lads who do come home do tend to go back over if they prove themselves.

“There are always opportunities out there, regardless if it is League Of Ireland or back abroad.” 

As he seeks to develop himself on a number of levels, including on the educational and footballing side, there are few better places than UCC for him to be in right now.

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