Promoted back to the Irish Premier in 2018, University College Dublin are based at the huge campus in Belfield, south of the city centre.
The football club dates back to 1895, 15 years before the rugby team. Both play at the UCD Bowl, redeveloped in 2007, with a single stand and an overall capacity of 3,000.
Since 1983, the Students have operated the same as any other football club in Ireland’s top two divisions, on a semi-pro basis, although a college scholarship scheme similar to the American model has allowed the likes of Joe Hanrahan to make their mark. In 1984, the striker came close to creating a sensation when UCD, making their European debut, nearly notched a late equaliser at Everton. A 1-1 draw would have sent the Students through on away goals – and changed the course of a season in which Everton duly won the Cup-Winners’ Cup and the league.
Apart from those 180 minutes of fame, UCD have flitted between Ireland’s two divisions. While major silverware has been limited, UCD often win the Collingwood Cup for colleges across Ireland. The competition was founded by one Bertram J Collingwood, who played for the legendary Corinthians in the amateur era of the 1890s before becoming a professor at UCD. Of UCD’s near 50 wins in just over a century, the victory of 1975 featured later Manchester United star Kevin Moran.
The first team also competed in the FAI Cup from the 1930s onwards, and the League of Ireland B Division from 1970. Although was no direct promotion and relegation with the senior league until 1985, UCD were invited to join in 1979, leading to the club ditching its amateur status and become semi-pro in 1983.
On the initiative of influential general manager Dr (‘The Doc’) Tony O’Neill, UCD decided to field non-students. The results were immediate. Under The Doc’s steady hand, scholarship players were also brought to the fore, both Joe Hanrahan and later UCD president Keith Dignam scoring from long range in a once-in-a-lifetime cup run. After the 5-0 thumping of cup holders Sligo Rovers, and narrower wins over Home Farm and Waterford, UCD faced Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup final.
Led out at the Dalymount by club mascot Henry the dog, UCD put up a feisty performance to hold the recently crowned league champions to 0-0 then surprise them in the replay at Tolka Park with a Hanrahan breakaway run. Midfielder Ken O’Doherty then made up for his penalty miss by scoring the winner in the 96th minute of the game, sparking crazy scenes on and off the pitch.
The cupset took UCD to Europe, and a tenacious performance against eventual Cup-Winners’ Cup winners Everton. Hanrahan may not have scored that life-changing away goal but his efforts earned a transfer to Manchester United. After no first-team games, he returned to win domestic silverware for Derry and Dundalk. O’Doherty had more luck over the water at Crystal Palace and Huddersfield, notching up over 100 league games.
Later scholarship successes have included architecture graduate David McMillan who, along with his brother, centre-back Evan, helped gain the Students the First Division title in 2009. After creditable performances in the top flight for UCD, both brothers left for St Patrick’s, David going on to win three league titles with Dundalk. Evan would return to UCD as player-coach in 2015.
That same year, the Students made an unexpected return to Europe after 30 years thanks to their Fair Play record in 2014. A single goal in each leg by Ryan Swan was enough to see off multi-titled Dudelange of Luxembourg before second-flight UCD kept ten-man Slovan Bratislava to a late 1-0 win in Slovakia. Swan scored again in the home leg at the UCD Bowl but by then the record Slovak champions were already 2-1 up. Two stoppage-time goals then skewed the aggregate score to 6-1.
Three years later, UCD returned to the Premier after a league showdown with Finn Harps ended in a 1-1 draw, Conor Davis scoring another crucial goal in the title-winning campaign.
Of a decent enough standard to host Europa League matches in 2015, the UCD Bowl is shared by the university’s soccer and rugby teams. It consists of one main stand, with open seating and grass banking either side of the central covered area. Half the capacity of 3,000 is seated.
Visiting supporters are allocated a few hundred seats furthest from the turnstiles and ticket hut.
The UCD Bowl is on the other side of Stillorgan Road from the RTÉ studios. The nearest bus stop is the next one down, Donnybrook, Belfield Court. From D’Olier Street (stop 335), just over the Liffey from O’Connell Street in town, bus Nos.39A and 145 takes 25min to reach it – nearby stop 334 is where you catch the No.46A that also comes this way from the city centre.
From Lower O’Connell Street, bus No.11 takes you down Clonskeagh Road to stop 860/UCD, the other side of the campus.
If you’re coming straight from the airport, aircoach 700 stops at the UCD Slip Road, one after RTÉ, journey time 50 minutes.
Admission is sold on the day from the windows by the turnstiles, €15 for adults, €10 for seniors and non-UCD students, €5 for under-14s and UCD students. This entitles you to sit in the main stand or stand behind either goal.
A modest selection of souvenirs is usually available behind the main stand on match days.
Open every day until at least 11pm, the Clubhouse Bar alongside the Student Centre is just other side of the car park from the main stand. The TV screens set up over the bar counter are tuned to sport.
Basic hot and cold refreshments are otherwise available by the main stand on match days.