UCD ready for Europa 'surprise'
UCD boss Colin O'Neill knows that stepping onto the European stage tonight is a big ask for his team of Students, one of only two second-tier teams who are taking part in the Europa League this season.
But ahead of his own Euro debut as a manager at home to Dudelange tonight, O'Neill is also keen for his side to put on a solid display and prove wrong those who have criticised the club's entry into the Europa League, via the Fair Play scheme, before a ball was kicked.
Fans of clubs like Bohemians, Sligo Rovers and Drogheda United, who have all had big nights in Europe in the last decade but did not qualify in 215, can only be jealous of UCD as they take on Dudelange (Luxembourg) as the Students' reward for being the best-behaved team in the league last season.
"It was a good surprise for us," says UCD forward Robbie Benson of their unexpected entry into the Europa League, after the side had been relegated from the top flight. It's going to be a nice adventure. It's the level everyone wants to be playing at.
"We got relegated last year so it's going to be a step up in quality for sure but I think we're ready for it," added Benson.
Boss O'Neill insists his side have been preparing. "We've done our homework on them," he says. "We've had a couple of DVDs and we know that they're a big, strong and physical side.
"It's not going to be easy, especially with us being so young and inexperienced."
This is UCD's first time in Europe since 2000, when they went out of the InterToto Cup on away goals against Bulgarian opposition.
In their only other occasion on the European stage, UCD ran Everton very close in the Cup Winners Cup, the Toffees scraping through 1-0 on aggregate (the home leg at Tolka Park finished 0-0) on their way to winning the trophy.
Their opponents are more experience in UEFA competition as this will the club's 19th campaign in Europe. But Dudelange have struggled and, in the last 15 years, have exited Europe at the first round stage on all but three occasions, their high point in Europe coming in the Champions League three years ago when the Luxembourg side, somehow, knocked out Red Bull Salzburg.
The Students have had to rearrange their league programme to accommodate the European fixtures and they are not back in action in the First Division until Sunday week (July 12th) when they take on Athlone Town.
ucd v DUDELANGE (Luxembourg)