UCC play in one of the biggest games in the college’s lengthy sporting history on Monday, as the Corkmen welcome Premier Division champions Dundalk to the Mardyke for an EA Sports Cup quarter-final tie.
Pundit Arena caught up with the manager of the Munster Senior League champions – Noel Healy – to discuss his side’s chances, ahead of one of the college’s most historic games.
“This is something that these players may never come across again in their footballing career. They might never come across the top team in the country.”
Motivation indeed for a side which has already overcome two League of Ireland sides on their path to the quarter-final, beating Wexford Youths and Cobh Ramblers. This experience is something that Healy wants his players to draw upon going into this David versus Goliath encounter.
“We went down to Wexford Youths on a wet, windy night and I think Wexford were quite surprised at the level of football that we played, [and] the intensity of the game. Going into that game we said that this is something that’s a little bit different to the norm, it’s a break from the league.
“We had just come back from winning the Collingwood Cup so we had a little bit of a reputation around cup football, so it gave us a huge incentive going into it.
“Then there was Cobh, which was a local element to the cup for us. We went in with a little bit of confidence. We stayed really quiet around the game because you don’t want to be building up guys’ expectations and our performance on the night was, for 88 minutes, absolutely outstanding and I think it’ll stand to them.
“They now understand the intensity of this level but it’s Wexford, it’s Cobh, but now you have Dundalk, who are a different level completely.”
When asked what areas his side will look to exploit against the Lilywhites, Healy was forthright in stating that UCC will look to play the ball in behind Dundalk’s full-backs.
“They have a system that they play throughout the team, they rotate quite a lot and their full-backs overlap a lot, so it isolates their two centre-backs. There are areas in and around the full-backs where, if it does break down, we can exploit because they’re very strong through the middle.”
The League Cup winner with Cork City in 1987 knows what occasions such as this are like and he will use his past experiences of big cup games to help his players make sure the match doesn’t pass them by.
“This is one thing that I’ve drilled through to lads. There’s a couple of things I’ve learned down through the years. The occasion can get to you. thankfully we don’t really have to worry about the occasion because the occasion seems to look after itself and all we have to do really is concentrate on the 90 minutes.
“I’ve been in dressing rooms down through the years, where after 45 minutes you’re sat in the dressing room wondering where the 45 minutes went and then you’re in the shower wondering where the 90 minutes went, so that’s all around the occasion but the things that I’ve been saying to the lads is that all we’ve to do is worry about the ninety minutes of preparation beforehand.
“I find with these things, if you enjoy it and take it in, you get a lot more out of it.”
An amateur side filled with students, who do not have the luxury of rest days and full match day preparation is one of the main differences between UCC and Dundalk, something Healy is acutely aware of going into the tie against Stephen Kenny’s men.
“The three or four top teams in the [Munster] Senior League are every bit as good, if they want to be, but the difference is that they’re not professional. It’s still an amateur sport. People work from nine to five and they finish up and rush out to get to a game, whereas the Dundalk match is completely different.
“You’re dealing with professionals that train on a regular basis and that have a system right throughout their senior, reserves and under-19 teams, so they’ve a lot more time to prepare for these games than we do.
“We’ve a small bit of a difference this year, where there’s a mental tiredness. We’ve played over 40 games this year, and we’ve used about 17/18 players, and at this time of the year – around May, the students are studying so they’ve had long, hard days and nights.
“The mental tiredness is probably even harder than the physical tiredness but I’m hoping that on the night the occasion will override that a little bit.”
With the game having so much romanticism about it, Healy will be hoping that Cork football fans will come out and support the team, starting with all those already involved in sport at the college.
“The university is full of 15-20,000 students, and there’s about 60 sports clubs involved in UCC and I would like to think we’d start off from there and get guys to come out and support us. It would be great if they wore the colours; it would be great if it was a college occasion.
“I would like to think that the Cork footballing supporter that’s gone back out to support Cork City and look at them, that they will come out and look at a Cork team, playing against the top team in the country.”
UCC host the Lilywhites at the iconic Mardyke ground at 8pm on Monday, May 18th. Entry to the game is just €5.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena