Their end-of-year exams may be completed within the last week, but the UCC soccer students’ toughest test will come in the Mardyke as they face reigning champions Dundalk in the EA Sports Cup quarter-final.
“These are students that are stepping out of 18- or 19-year-old football into competing against really good athletes and full-time pros,” explains College manager Noel Healy.
“There’s a big gap but they’ve learned and the occasions haven’t frightened any of them. It’s all about getting as much as you can out of the night and I think the occasion will get another 15 or 20% out of the players.”
Although they’re the only quarter-finalist from outside the bubble of the Airtricity League Premier Division, UCC have been dominant in college competitions, collecting a unique treble of Collingwood (Senior), Crowley (Junior) and Harding (Fresher) Cups.
Their national cup run has seen UCC defeat Wexford Youths and Cobh Ramblers, yet the visit of a premier division side on a streak of 23 games without a loss (19 by way of knockout and only four ties) makes progression to the semis all the more daunting.
“Dundalk are an incredible machine,” said Healy. “They just have a system that is unique at the moment. We haven’t seen a team dominating the League of Ireland like this for a long time.”
Neither does the thought of Dundalk lining out at less than full strength offer Healy any solace: “Most of the players that they’re bringing would walk into any League of Ireland team.”
Cork City manager John Caulfield held charge of the students until last year, contributing to their first Munster Senior League title, and knows plenty about the scale of the challenge Dundalk pose.
A College win would be the ideal for Cork soccer but beyond the dream outcome, the game with high class opponents will serve to enhance the students’ learning curve.
“It’s good for the young lads of UCC to see the standard and the physique so it’s bonus territory for the college,” said the City boss.
“UCC’s a great nursery for us that they [Cork City U19s] can go in and play the Senior League, and get toughened up. Then, when they get to 21 or 22 they can come back to us, if they’re at that level.”
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