UCD's little wonder

"I think they'll embarrass the league," predicted one critic as University College Dublin AFC started their European campaign, but Colin O'Neill's side have been a credit so far.

Ryan Swan celebrates after scoring the only goal of UCD's first leg against Dudelange
Ryan Swan celebrates after scoring the only goal of UCD's first leg against Dudelange ©Sportsfile

Who are they?
Mainly made up of students from University College Dublin (UCD), 'College' were relegated at the end of the 2014 Irish Premier Division campaign, only to get an unexpected European ticket through the UEFA Respect Fair Play rankings.

They beat F91 Dudelange 1-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League first qualifying round tie and progressed on away goals with a 2-1 defeat in Luxembourg – despite playing much of the match with ten men. "I'm really, really proud of the bunch," said manager Colin O'Neill. "It was going to be hard enough coming here to play with 11 men but to have to do it with ten is incredible. I said to the players at half-time that if we lose this and we don't go through, don't let that be because one of us hasn't done our job or done what we were supposed to do."

They flew straight back to the Irish capital just in time for O'Neill to be at his wife's bedside when their son was born on Friday morning.

UCD celebrate overcoming Dudelange
UCD celebrate overcoming Dudelange©UEFA.com

European history
UCD had twice appeared in UEFA competition prior to this season. Famously they came up against eventual winners Everton FC in the first round of the 1984/85 European Cup Winners' Cup. Then Toffees manager Howard Kendall later admitted that their 1-0 aggregate victory was one of the hardest ties his side faced.

Few expected the current UCD to do well in Europe, with their former boss Dermot Keely predicting a disaster before the first leg. "I hope I'm wrong, but I think they'll embarrass the league," Keely wrote in his column in the Irish Sun. Wrong. ŠK Slovan Bratislava can now expect an uncomfortable night as they take on College in the next round.

Like father, like son
Ryan Swan's first-leg goal earned UCD a slender lead to take to Luxembourg. The 19-year-old has good pedigree – his father Derek registered twice in UEFA competition for Bohemian FC in the mid-90s. Swan struck again in the return leg to equal his father's continental tally and become, alongside Robert McAuley, UCD's all-time UEFA top scorer with two goals.

"He just smells it," said O'Neill of his young forward. "He seems to be able to be in the right place at the right time and it was vital for us. I knew he'd get one or two chances and if he finished one, we'd see this tie out. Scoring first really put the cat among the pigeons – you could see they were down."

Defying the doom-mongers
O'Neill put a collage of the criticism by Keely and other online comments about UCD on the dressing room wall before the Dudelange first leg, saying: "I didn't need a team talk." Swan added: "We have answered all those tweets. We proved them wrong, we showed them." Keely had a good-natured response, explaining he would "put on a few pounds" from eating humble pie.

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