1990-1999 – the 90s
July 1979 saw the day UCD enter the League of Ireland top division. Tony O'Neill was manager, Theo Dunne was coach and Keith Dignam was the first scholarship player. This was Dr. O'Neill's biggest contribution to the club and UCD's unique contribution to Irish football. Players offered a scholarship could sit for a degree while playing top-level football in Ireland. Practically everyone who has gone through the system has spoken highly of it, especially those who subsequently moved on to England. Kevin Moran, though technically never a scholarship recipient, has often said that delaying his move to England until after he completed his Commerce degree meant both that he was more mature when heading over, and also less worried about his future, as he had his degree.
The first season in the league, though, was tough going. In fact, we finished second last - ahead of Shelbourne - and had to apply for re-election.
A link-up with Vancouver Whitecaps (of the North American Soccer League) soon followed, which saw Dave Norman line out over 50 times for us over three seasons - he would go on to play for Canada in the 1986 World Cup. Vancouver were then managed by one John Giles, who sent his players to Ireland to maintain match fitness during the Canadian close season, and in 1981, he brought the team over for a friendly match to celebrate the opening of the Belfield Park dressing room area.
By the end of the 1982/83 season, though, it was apparent that the current system wasn't working as we had to apply for re-election for the second time in only four seasons. Even the addition of on-loan players from the Vancouver Whitecaps, such as former Scottish international and Leeds United's record goalscorer Peter Lorimer signed, but played only three League games before re-joining Leeds United, was not enough to stop the slide. So UCD decided to abandon the student-only policy, allowing anyone to play for the College. This has been refined somewhat to-day - UCD generally only have students or graduates (an important distinction) in the team, with the occasional guest players, such as Derek Swan ( in the 2000/2001 campaign) , to help youngsters along. And of course, with the scholarship scheme, UCD can sign players from England and give them a college education, meaning that we aren't restricted to what comes through the CAO in early September. Scouts also check out the top schoolboy talent in the country and offer them scholarships on the condition that they obtain the relevant points requirement in the Leaving Cert. In 1983, those changes were rung rather dramatically. Another former international was Paddy Dunning, a centre-back with two senior Irish caps. Alan O'Neill was the most instrumental signing, while Dermot Keely was appointed manager but after eight games, he left for Shamrock Rovers. The policy worked, as at the end of the season, UCD finished sixth in the league - by far the highest position in UCD's short league history - and won the FAI Cup.
The 1984/85 season started off even better - we drew Everton in the European Cup Winners' Cup. A hammering was expected - the previous season, Drogheda United had played Spurs in the UEFA Cup and lost 14-0 on aggregate - but in front of a sell-out Tolka Park, we held the star-studded Toffees scoreless. Everton went on to win the home leg 1-0, but it could have been different as Ken O'Doherty skimmed the bar late on. To put that result in perspective, Everton's team contained the likes of Neville Southall, Irish international Kevin Sheedy, Andy Gray, Peter Reid, Derek Mountfield, Trevor Steven, Gary Stevens, Paul Bracewell and others. They went on to win the entire competition, as well as the league title and finish as runners-up in the FA Cup Final to Liverpool for good measure! Derek Mountfield and manager Howard Kendall were to look back at the UCD tie afterwards and reflect that it had been the toughest challenge along the way.
By Christmas of 1984, UCD were incredibly second in the league, but we ended up in fourth spot in the end. Unfortunately, financial problems hit, and the club were forced to release all semi-pro players. Manchester United signed Joe Hanrahan, then one of the most skilful players in the league. But with the side decimated, UCD picked up a mere eight points the next season and were relegated at the end of the 1985/86 season. The first team squad's average age was a mere 19 years! However, good news did befall the club as Dr. O'Neill was appointed as General Secretary of the FAI - he went on to hold many posts in football circles, travelling as an official to Italia '90 and being on the organising committee of Euro 2000 in the years leading up to the competition. It would certainly be fair to say, however, that UCD were always his first priority.
In 1987, UCD added a rather unusual trophy to the cabinet - it's still to be seen in the Sports Centre to this day, a big copper-rust coloured trophy with a keeper diving athletically to catch a ball. It is the World Collegiate trophy, which was won in New Mexico in April of that year, fending off opposition from American and Mexican colleges. And when you consider how seriously American colleges in particular take their sport, that is some achievement.
In 1988, UCD won promotion to the Premier, being relegated again the next year. The 1988 season was notable for us beating Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup Second Round - Rovers' first defeat in the competition since that 1984 replay!
1979-1989 – League membership and the 80s 2004-present: the Pete Mahon years