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Students to savour not fear Euro test

IT WILL be a different task but the same approach for UCD as they now prepare for a most unexpected Europa League battle in Slovakia next week.

The boys from Belfield stay out of the spotlight in Irish media and sporting circles for most of the time but the Students have made a lot of people sit up and take note after they knocked out Luxembourg side Dudelange to earn a meeting with Slovan Bratislava, the first leg in Slovakia next week.

The sub-plot of manager Collie O'Neill arriving in Luxembourg just hours before kick off, and then making a dash to the Coombe maternity hospital straight after his arrival back in Dublin to welcome into the world his third child, has caught the imagination.

But the on-field exploits of UCD - one of only two second-tier sides in Europe this season - has also is also causing a stir, with clubs like Red Star Belgrade and St Johnstone already gone from the Europa League while College enjoy a place in round two, with the promise of more to come.

"For most of that squad, it's the highlight of our careers," UCD man Mark Langtry told The Herald.

"We have a young squad, most of us haven't won much in terms of medals or European experience, so to get though a round is amazing.

"And hopefully this is not the peak, we certainly hope there is more to come. Slovan Bratislava is a massive, massive task for us now, especially with the first leg away, and it will be the most difficult game of our career.

"No one expects us to win. But no one expected us to beat Dudelange, so nothing changes for it's the same approach and the same self-belief because there's no pressure on us, the only pressure is from within and we will give it our best effort over the next two legs.

"It was a big deal for the players but we know it was massive for UCD as a club to get through, all the people who work so hard to keep the show on the road.

"We are aware of the stick that UCD get from all sides, so it was really nice to shut up some of the critics by getting through a round."

While UCD enjoyed their Europa response to those criticism of their participation in Europe, there was no crowing from Belfield over the fact that they survived in Europe while St Pats and Cork City, with much bigger budgets, exited. "I'd have loved to see all four Irish clubs get through so we're not happy about Pats and Cork," says Langtry.

"But what this does show is the real quality we have in the squad, and we are just as professional in our approach as any other team in the country, despite what people say and maybe now we can get some respect from those so-called critics."

It was a hectic two weeks for the UCD players, the magnitude of their achievement summed up by the fact that they've had to postpone their league game next weekend to prepare for Europe, and it's a big ask to take on Slovan, a club who made the group stages of the Europa League twice in recent seasons.

"We landed back home around 1.30am on Friday morning but it was hard for anyone to get to sleep that night," Langtry added. "The adrenaline was pumping and we we all so shattered from the game, there was no chance of sleeping, these things don't happen in your career that often."