New FAI division could provide importantopportunities for UCC

New FAI division could provide importantopportunities for UCC

Cork City's Michael McSweeney is tackled by Galway United's Colm Horgan. He was the first UCC player to make the step up at Turner's Cross. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE FAI are currently planning on adding a third tier to the League of Ireland, set to come in from 2023.

This new division is expected to be made up of some reserve teams from Premier Division clubs, university and college sides and clubs from the Leinster and Munster Senior League.

When the plans are finalised and applications open for licences, one club which deserves to make the step up to League of Ireland football is UCC.

The Cork college has been hoovering up silverware over the last ten years while producing some top players. This process started in 2011 when UCC won the Collingwood Cup and the Munster Senior League First Division, which promoted them to the Premier Division.

In 2014, UCC went on a fairy-tale run to the last sixteen of the FAI Intermediate Cup. Their heroics earned them a place in that season’s FAI Cup, and they beat Swilly Rovers in the first round. St Michaels AFC ended their journey in the next round but UCC did not mind as they won the 2013/14 Munster Senior League Premier Division.

This qualified the college for the 2015 League of Ireland Cup. They knocked out Wexford Youths and Cobh Ramblers on their way to the quarter-finals, where Dundalk beat them 5-0 at The Mardyke. UCC finished off that season with one trophy; another Collingwood Cup.

Sean McLoughlin of Cork City in action against Neil Farrugia of UCD. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Sean McLoughlin of Cork City in action against Neil Farrugia of UCD. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

In 2017, they defeated UCD to win the Collingwood Cup once again and later that season UCC held their nerve to beat Cobh Wanderers in a decider for the Munster Senior League title. The following year the college won the Beamish Stout Senior Cup along with the Donie Forde Trophy, which was a rare double for them. 

2019 saw UCC win the Collingwood Cup, Munster Senior League Premier Division, and the O’Connell Cup. This was an elusive treble for the college, and it would have been a quadruple if not for their defeat to Avondale United in the Beamish Stout Senior Cup final.

UCC have used this success to develop and shape players before they step up to the League of Ireland.

Michael McSweeney was the first player to make the step up and played an important role in Cork City’s run to the third round of the 2016 Europa League qualifiers. He also collected an FAI Cup medal in November 2016 after City beat Dundalk in the final.

His move was followed up with the signings of Sean O’Mahony and Sean McLoughlin. The pair were recruited midway through the 2017 League of Ireland season, and they made intermittent appearances during City’s run to a league and cup double success. 

McLoughlin really established himself in the Cork City team in 2018, as the defender making 38 appearances that year. He also played for City in a host of top competitions including the Champions League and Europa League. His performances caught the eye of a number of top clubs in England and in July 2019 he joined Hull City.

Another player who stepped up from UCC was Shane Daly-Butz, who had a brief spell at City at the end of the 2018 season.

Celtic's Liam Scales is tackled by Ross County's Harry Paton. Picture: Steve Welsh/PA Wire.
Celtic's Liam Scales is tackled by Ross County's Harry Paton. Picture: Steve Welsh/PA Wire.

UCC’s promotion to the League of Ireland could see the college become a version of UCD for the south of Ireland. The Dublin college, who joined in 1979, have used their membership to create a school of excellence in Irish football.

UCD have produced a host of top players including current Irish international and Sheffield United star Enda Stevens. They also developed David McMillan, Ronan Finn, Ciarán Kilduff, Robbie Benson, and Andy Boyle. This group of players have won every medal in Irish football over the last ten years, as well as playing in the group stages of the Europa League.

The most recent graduate from UCD to make it is Liam Scales, who left the Students in 2019 to sign for Shamrock Rovers. In his first season at the Hoops he won a league title, and last August he signed for Celtic. 

Scales has been in Glasgow four months and he has made three appearances, scoring one goal. His run of appearances for the Celts was rewarded earlier this month when he came on as a substitute in the Scottish League Cup final.

The college is without a doubt a centre of excellence in Dublin and in Leinster and UCC could model themselves on this pathway for Munster. The Cork college has the experience of producing players and winning trophies. They could very easily use their platform to build something special in the south of Ireland.

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