As Daniel Pender’s cup-winning penalty smashed the back of the net on Tuesday two weeks ago in Turners Cross, the curtain was brought down on another hugely successful season for University College Cork’s senior football side.
Following on from 2017’s Munster Senior League and Collingwood Cup titles, the Noel Healy-managed side added the Beamish Cup to the Donie Forde Cup they had won earlier in the season. Success was no longer aspirational, it was an expectation and one that the university had delivered on in some fashion.
Often seen as a GAA or rugby university, the success of University College Cork’s soccer club has overshadowed that of its peers in recent years, each trophy firmly establishing UCC AFC as one of the top sides in the country.
The management team of Noel Healy, Conor Uhl and former Celtic man Mick Conroy, along with FAI Coordinator Greg Yelverton, have cultivated a culture of hard work, discipline and fast, free-flowing football. UCC are both successful and entertaining, a footballing alchemist’s dream.
The growth in the standard of third-level football has coincided with UCC competing in the final of the College & Universities Football League (CUFL) for the past two seasons. The CUFL has become a shop window for League of Ireland (LOI) managers looking to view top players and potential acquisitions and UCC’s success has provided many of their players with the opportunity to audition for a League of Ireland berth.
The standard of the CUFL, in particular, has grown tremendously with many LOI players now in third-level education as well as playing with LOI Premier and 1st Division teams. The Premier Division, in which UCC compete, has thrown up some classic games, as a high number of players in the league are on scholarships.
Players must play in the CUFL to get international recognition and line out for the Colleges and Universities national team, managed by the aforementioned Yelverton.
“We see UCC and UCC AFC as a fantastic option for any young player who may be looking for education, but also to develop as a player,” Yelverton told Pundit Arena. “Along with the UCC Sports Department and the Director of Sport, we have developed a program that encourages and creates an environment for young players to flourish.
“Third level football has come on leaps and bounds with the Collingwood Cup and the Colleges University Football League (CUFL) becoming a common hunting ground for LOI managers to recruit players. At UCC, players gain great exposure to high-level competition with a pathway to play International football and represent their country.
“Our Scholarship program aims to develop not only talented soccer players but well-rounded individuals, and we are delighted to see many players move onto LOI clubs, most importantly with a degree to their name.”
Trophies aside, UCC Soccer’s success can also be measured by the volume of players that have plied their trades in the League of Ireland after spending time at the college.
Robert Lehane, Josh O’Shea, and Michael McSweeney have all come through UCC and represented Cork City under John Caulfield, with the latter also lining out for Mervue United, and Lehane playing for both Cobh and Sligo. Jason Abbott (Cobh Ramblers) and Ian Mylod (Cobh Ramblers) are others, while Sean O’Mahony played his part in leading Cork City to a league and cup double last season.
However, it is O’Mahony’s centre-back partner, Sean McLoughlin, that is making the most noise in the League of Ireland with a run of fantastic performances at the heart of the League of Ireland champions’ defence.
McLoughlin, recently linked with a move to Liverpool, joined UCC from Cork City U19s and is a current Business Information Studies student. He started on a Player Development Programme (PDP) scholarship, which helps “to provide top class coaching and fitness programmes to aid in the development of each player”, before progressing to a full scholarship.
His time with UCC Soccer would see the speedy centre-back represent the Irish Colleges & Universities team, and captain them at the World University Games (2017) but it was his performances for Noel Healy’s side that would forever stand out in UCC history.
In the 2016/17 season, McLoughlin won a Collingwood Cup with a man-of-the-match performance, was named Player of the Tournament, and also scored the winner in a Munster Senior League title decider at The Mardyke.
His development and standout performances were recognised at the FAI’s annual awards, where McLoughlin was named 3 FAI International University & Colleges Player Of The Year. Oh yeah, and he also signed terms with Cork City FC.
Juggling studies and sport, McLoughlin pointed to the support of UCC Soccer having a major bearing on his development.
“Playing with UCC Soccer, if you had any problems with regards to your college work, you were able to talk to people involved in the club,” McLoughlin told Pundit Arena. “If there were any clashes, they could be sorted and that helped to take pressure off.”
“The UCC Soccer scholarship gives people a good opportunity to go to college and also to play at a high-level. College football is a fantastic stepping stone to bigger things so I would definitely recommend it.”
McLoughlin has seamlessly made the transition from Collingwood Cup and Munster Senior League football to League of Ireland, a leap that many before him have struggled with.
“It’s a big step up. Collingwood Cup is a very decent standard with a lot of good, young players. The League of Ireland has been a big step up, but I’m really enjoying the challenge.”
Current captain Shane Daly-Butz has also capped off a fantastic UCC career by winning every trophy available and also representing Ireland. A number of League of Ireland clubs are currently in the race to secure his signature, as the pacy attacker weighs up his options.
As UCC toast to another successful season in the skull and crossbones, do not be surprised to see one or two more players make the step up to League of Ireland, each one owing their footballing development to the fantastic opportunities afforded to them by UCC Soccer and the good people behind the club.
The UCC Soccer Scholarships provide an elite environment for players to develop, with a
professional culture for young players.
Benefits of being a UCC Soccer scholarship student include:
– Strength & Conditioning Coach
– Sports Scientist-led Fitness Assessments
– Hydro Pool
– Nutritional advice
– Academic support
– Financial assistance
For further information on UCC Soccer scholarships, you can contact Greg Yelverton at email@example.com. More information is also available by clicking here.
There are three types of scholarships available for applicants and the deadlines are as follows:
– UCC Soccer Scholarship – Deadline: June 28th 2018
– Roy Keane Scholarship – Deadline: June 28th 2018
– QUERCUS Scholarship – Deadline: February 2019