When the DCU players look back on their victory over IT Letterkenny in the CUFL quarter-final in times to come, thoughts of the taxing early morning coach journey and dismal weather conditions will be reduced to mere details by the gravity of their achievement.
These players secured DCU’s place in their first ever CUFL semi-final through a collective dogged will to win; it wasn’t the most pleasing on the eye, but that’s beside the point. When this group assembled in September, it was on the back of a season that could be considered the nadir of DCU soccer.
Now, they can count themselves among the top four collegiate teams in Ireland and look forward to their semi-final with IT Carlow, the best side in the country, with a justified confidence earned through skill and toil.
Reflecting on the win, DCU Manager, Declan Roche, is typically complimentary of his players: “We’re delighted; the players were excellent, as they have been from day one really. They deserve to be there [in the semi-final] after the performance, it’s all gone very well and they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do.”
Regarding the staggering rapidity of the squad’s evolution during his brief tenure in charge, the former Celtic player maintains that there has been no one secret ingredient. “When you’re a coach or a manager, if you can just get your players organised and try and get them playing a certain way. A lot of good work had already gone in with the players in the years before, they play the way I like and the philosophy is still there in terms of style.
“What we wanted to do is add a bit of professionalism, get good sessions in, bringing in John Russell as coach has helped that. Try and have good standards and make the players feel important.”
He notes the team’s desire in Letterkenny, but also their overall hunger to succeed where they haven’t in years gone by. “There certainly was a good determination about them. The players have been reading about UCD and Carlow winning for so long and they have responded to that. I certainly don’t think they wanted their little adventure to end in Letterkenny and I think they proved that,” he said.
A manager of Roche’s experience is all too aware that this euphoria must be fleeting for the sake of the bigger picture, and he has already began to look to the task of scalping the champions: “We still have work to do; we have a massive game against Carlow, we’ll get back to training this week and do a couple of sessions. Then we’ll go up to Queen’s University for a preparation game to keep the players ticking over.”
IT Carlow have been rampant this season, comfortably winning all six of their matches, including a 5-1 demolition of UL in their quarter final. Additionally, they have scored 25 goals and only conceded three, yet Roche is more concerned with what his side will bring to the table.
“They (Carlow) have a great history and pedigree in the competition, and they’ve scored a lot of goals this year, but from our point of view, I’ll be more interested in how we preform and go about the game. In games like semi-finals, if you dwell too much on how you’re going to stop the other team play, you end up not playing yourself.”
Without looking past Carlow, Roche is still adamant of his intent to win the competition: “I came into this situation with John Russell to win the thing, and that hasn’t changed. If we can get the players believing they can do it, then we have a good chance. We’re going to go into this game the underdog, but you know, there’s no harm in being the underdog,” he said.
Elsewhere, DIT and Athlone IT will meet in the other semi-final after beating Belfast Metropolitan College and Waterford IT respectively.