Since their promotion to the top flight of Irish football in 2009, UCD have been written off as relegation certainties every year. However, critics have been proved wrong over the last four seasons, and the Students finished a very respectable 9th in 2013.
The offseason hasn’t exactly gone smoothly for the club though with a change of manager and the loss of a couple of key players. The new man at the helm, we think, is Aaron Callaghan, who has taken the reins from the well-liked Martin Russell.
While UCD have not officially confirmed that Callaghan is their man from 2014, the former Bohemians boss was present at the official season launch last week. The 47-year-old Dubliner will have to watch the first five games from the stands though due to a suspension he picked up while at Dalymount Park last year.
The loss of captain Mick Leahy to Limerick FC will hit the team hard, with the 24-year-old a mainstay in defence for five years, while David O’Connor, Craig Walsh and Sean Russell have also moved on to pastures new.
They finished preseason with an encouraging 3-0 away win over Galway FC last weekend thanks to goals from Dwayne Wilson, Robbie Benson and Cillian Morrison.
Last season: 9th
2014 odds: 250/1
Out: Mick Leahy (Limerick), David O’Connor (Shamrock Rovers), Craig Walsh (Bohemians), Sean Russell (Longford Town)
Martin Russell’s shoes are big ones to fill after he spent nine years with the club as both a coach and manager, winning the First Division title in 2009. His departure was rather unsavoury and wasn’t officially confirmed until late last month when he joined St. Patrick’s Athletic as an assistant to Liam Buckley.
Aaron Callaghan knows the league and did an ok job at Dalymount Park with a young group of players so he will be well aware of the task at hand. Callaghan’s former side are the opposition at the UCD Bowl for the season opener tonight, and it will be important to pick up results in their home games.
Robbie Benson. A strong presence in the middle of the park, Benson finished 2013 on fire with four goals in four games, including the opener in the final game of the campaign when a 2-1 win over Shelbourne preserved UCD’s top flight status. Still only 21, he has plenty of experience in the league which will be needed.
Keep an eye on
Dean Clarke. The 20-year-old bagged eight goals last season and was a key factor in the club’s survival. It’s surprising that he hasn’t been picked up by one of the bigger clubs yet but any improvement on his 2013 form should see him catch the eye of potential suitors sooner rather than later.
Where will they finish?
The off field turmoil over Martin Russell’s eventual departure has done the club no favours, and a lack of stability at managerial level is never good for a young side. Callaghan’s task will be to keep the club in the top flight but we think that he may fall just short and UCD will go down via a playoff against second the second place finishers from the First Division.