After a mixed few weeks for UCC, soccer focus returns now to the Intervarsity season for the college. Following the historic treble-winning 2015 season, and a lacklustre 2016, pressure is on in Cork’s historic institution to deliver. It is a few weeks which will define a team and their playing careers. For former Cork City FC star turned UCC manager Noel Healy it is all about preparation heading into this year’s competition.
“We look at the Collingwood season; it’s a two half season. The lead up into Christmas, with our own CUFL League, Munster Senior League and FAI Intermediate Cup; and we’ve had a mixed season pre-Christmas” he opened, but the UCC manager was quick to add an air of optimism, “We topped our group in the College University League but we also went out to Ballincollig in the FAI Intermediate Cup and we had a poor start to the Munster Senior League and losing players through injuries and suspension. Still we had some good results pre-Christmas to bring us back in”
Focus is firmly on the next eight weeks for the College, with a barrage of fixtures coming thick and fast, something Noel knows all about: “The next eight weeks are going to be interesting. There’s lots of other competitions for UCC. We had the semi-finals of the Donie Forde this weekend, the week after we are away to Rockmount in the league and then home to Corinthians. All big games. We have the quarterfinals of the Intervarsity league. We’re losing a few lads to the Harding too. There’s a lot of things happening over the next six to eight weeks for us.” A break then comes before the biggest stage of all for the Leesiders: “By winning our Farquhar Cup we’re seeded this year and it’s very important. We’ve to only play three games over the week. We got a reasonable draw with Trinity and we’re on the good side of the tournament.”
With an eye on the league, and another on the cup, the former Cork City star has been bolstered by a number of returning players, “We have Sean O’Mahoney and Sean Mcloughlin coming back, and goalkeeper Kevin O’Brien, formerly of Cork City as well. They’re bringing a lot of experiences to the team. The ideal thing to do is to get over your first game with a comfortable win so you can empty the bench.”
Stepping away from the tournament, Healy blessed his whole squad and to savour the coming weeks, “I keep on saying this with new players coming in: people get a short amount of time to wear the UCC jersey, and in that period there are three major competitions. You start to understand what the Crowley the Harding and the Collingwood mean to University players between various reunions with players coming back and how hard a tournament it is. It is a bragging right in college. I know all the lads in college who won it and not the lads who lost it. I’ve friends of mine to this day who still go on about winning the Collingwood. They won very little in football but the Collingwood is the most important to them.”
Across the last five years the Collingwood has produced a number of future League of Ireland stars. Cork City FC’s Michael McSweeney and Josh O’Shea all sparked to life in the competition, as well as the managerial career of Cork City’s FAI Cup winning manager John Caulfield. These developments were something Healy was quick to praise, as well as UCC’s role in developing future talent.
“With every player that comes in you have three or four with the potential to play League of Ireland. The beauty of UCC and the Mardyke is that the facilities are there and are second to none. When we get a guy in; I’m going to make reference to Josh O’Shea. He came in at 9 stone. Small guy but quick. When he left he was 11 and a half stone. That was all down to strength and conditioning. That gives him an advantage over other Munster Senior League clubs. The advantage the Mardyke gives the first couple of steps and they are crucial inside in UCC because they lay a platform for you and a standard. We have three or four guys’ way above Munster Senior League standard and if they stay with us they will definitely be going into League of Ireland”
The conveyer belt of talent has seen success propelled across Leeside in recent years. From Cork City FC’s European exploits to Sean Maguire’s 120th minute winner at the Aviva Stadium. even to Ballincollig AFC’s underage successes nationally in 2016. Healy finished on the feel good atmosphere currently in Cork soccer.
“Well… when you had Cork City doing well it had a ripple effect down into Munster Senior League and other leagues because there is a general interest. If you look at children in the park playing; when Wimbledon is on they play tennis and when the hurlers and footballers are doing well they are playing hurling and football. Cork soccer had had a huge knock on effect down through the leagues.
But Cork soccer; it has always been strong. You talk to any Dublin team that has had to come to Cork they have found it very difficult to take on Avondale, Corinthians, and Rockmount down through the years. It has always been historically strong.”