UCD manager Collie O’Neill heaped praise on his squad as they reached their first FAI Cup semi-final in 11 years – but said he’d trade it all for a result against Finn Harps on Friday.
The Students stunned Premier Division high-flyers Waterford on Friday night with a 2-1 win that was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests.
Brilliantly-worked goals from Conor Davis and Timmy Molloy put UCD 2-0 up at the break before Stanley Aborah pulled one back for the visitors to set up a tense finish.
The Blues had all the ball in the closing ten minutes but created little as College put in a disciplined defensive shift to deservedly take their place in the final four.
However, College manager O’Neill – who has overseen the past four years at Belfield – insisted a cup run is worth nothing if they miss out on promotion.
“Tonight was a free crack at a Premier Division team, but I still would have swapped tonight for a win next week to put us up there,” he told the Dublin Gazette.
“They’re the kind of teams we want to be playing week in, week out. That’s the stage these players should rightly be playing on.
“Hopefully we can do the work next week and get up there. We want to go and test ourselves against the best – that’s the stage we want to be on.”
The Students need just a point against second-placed Harps to seal the First Division title and a return to the top level after four years in the wilderness.
The Donegal side are the only club capable of catching UCD and denying them the title, but the Students will be confident having lost just one game at home all year.
They’ll take belief, too, from their performance against Waterford, who arrived with a large travelling support and began with the swagger of a side fourth in the Premier Division.
They fell behind, however, on 20 minutes as Greg Sloggett threaded an inch-perfect ball through for Davis, who slid in front of ex-UCD keeper Niall Corbet to open the scoring.
Davis, 20, has been in red-hot form since signing from Reading last month, scoring six goals in six games, earning him a nomination for player of the month for August.
Six minutes later, it was 2-0 as Gary O’Neill’s corner ran through to Timmy Molloy, and the midfielder curled a beautiful shot into the top corner.
The Students were in full control of the game and had chances to extend their lead in the second half, but neither Gary O’Neill nor Molloy could take advantage to seal the win.
Waterford created little during the game and their only shot on target came from the spot as Aborah sent Conor Kearns the wrong way after Gary O’Neill had upended Rory Feely.
“With everything that Waterford threw at us, it was going to come down to a set-piece or a corner or something – that was the only way they were going to score.
“The longer it went on, Waterford were just gambling that extra little bit, but we were able to deal with what they threw at us.
“[We conceded] but still we didn’t panic. We didn’t give up many chances after that. There’s good belief and mental strength there in that squad.”
On potential semi-final opponents, of whom champions Cork City and Dundalk are two, the manager added: “I couldn’t care less [who we get]. It’s another free crack – we’ll just go at it.”