Ryan Bailey takes a look back at UCD AFC's Under 19 Season.
The Airtricity League might be only entering its third month but this weekend sees the conclusion of the inaugural and very successful Dr Tony O'Neill U19 league. Set up to provide the country's brightest young prospects a stage to show off their talents and gain vital experience, the league has been extremely beneficial if anything for UCD AFC and it's up and coming stars writes Ryan Bailey.
UCD is widely regarded as one of the best club's in the country for any young player to learn his trade and the addition of the highly competitive U19 league has helped the club progress a number of exciting talents. The likes of Hugh Douglas, Chris Lyons and James Kavanagh have all featured for the U19s over the past season and it's the weekly game time which has helped them to establish themselves as first team regulars. No fewer than eight of Albert Sugg's U19 squad will stay on with the first team after this weekend's final game with Waterford and with Niall Corbett, Sean Russell and Ryan Matthews all representing Ireland at schools level over the past season and Hugh Douglas scooping the FAI Schools International player of the year award, it's been a pretty successful season despite the mid table finish in the U19 "elite" league.
After a promising start, a mid-season slump hit the side's title hopes but a strong finish to the season has seen the Students move up the table and find themselves in mid-table. U19 and first team coach Jamie Moore is convinced the introduction of the league has benefited the players hugely "It's been great for the lads to take a step up to the next level and push themselves against all the best young players in the country. To train with the first team is also a great benefit as they get the exact same treatment as the first team when it comes to team coach, pre match meals at away games, gear and the dressing room setup, so it's the exact same when they make the step up"
Chris Lyons has stood out in particular but as Jamie explained to me it's been more of a team effort with every member of the squad contributing significantly at some point during the season. 'Chris Lyons has impressed this season for us, he plays up front, is quick, strong and the ultimate 'fox in the box', give him a half chance and he will score. But overall all the lads have done very well so I don't like singling individuals out'
Highlights of the campaign on the pitch have been an impressive away victory at St. Pats and the 7-1 hammering of Mervue United at home. Ahead of Saturday's season finale, Albert Sugg's side have improved their record substantially, winning three of those and earning credible away draws with Shelbourne and Drogheda in recent weeks. As mentioned Chris Lyons has starred up front and has found the net on eight occasions along with Dean Clarke who has showed great potential in front of goal.
Six of this year's panel will still be eligible for the U19 League next season which gives Albert and Jamie a good basis to build upon as they look to establish another squad full of talent and push for silverware but it's not all about the glory according to Jamie. "It's not all about winning things or league position, it's about getting the lads to play the game in the right way, train well, have a good attitude to their football, studies and general lifestyle off the pitch. If we do that then I think it will be a successful season, once we do all of the above, the results will come and we will finish in a good position in the table"
UCD AFC U19s played their final game of the season on Saturday, defeating Waterford United 3-1.