UCD ag student: ‘Having a plan B ensures life after the Leaving Cert’

When Martin Farrelly didn’t get enough points to study animal and crop production at UCD, he didn’t despair as he had a back-up plan – doing a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course.

Now in his fourth year of animal and crop production at UCD, the 23-year-old stresses that all is not over for Leaving Cert students who don’t get the required CAO (Central Applications Office) points for entry to the course of their choice.

“I only missed getting into UCD to do the course by 10 points. Instead of re-sitting the Leaving Cert and possibly missing out on points again, as the points increased the following year, I decided to do a PLC in science and laboratory techniques at Cavan Institute,” said Martin, who attended a careers fair for UCD students on February 14.

He was a winner in the Agricultural Science Association mock interviewees event at UCD.

My career guidance counsellor at Breifne College in Cavan had told us that not getting the points for the courses we wanted shouldn’t define us. The message was that there are so many alternative routes.

“Because I am from Cavan, I was able to get to the institute in 15 minutes, and that set me on my way to UCD – which was my ultimate goal,” said Martin.

He exceeded UCD’s specific requirements for getting a place on the course, with 10 distinctions. He also was awarded student of the year at the institute. “I needed five distinctions but I wanted to get a clean sweep so I could be absolutely certain I would get the place. I knew I would be competing against different PLC students around the country.

I found the PLC really helped me at UCD. I had studied biology and agricultural science for the Leaving Cert but the course is very science and maths-based and it definitely helped me at UCD to have done it. I also got the opportunity to do a two-week placement at the University of Life Sciences, Tartu, in Estonia, sponsored by the European Commission.

“Doing a PLC also gets you in the right frame of mind for college life. In secondary school, you have to do a lot of things whereas in university you have to want to do it,” Martin said. “The others on the PLC went on to study a wide variety of courses around the country.”

The UCD course is “tough at times” but enjoyable, said Martin who is the youngest in a family of five. “I’m nearly there and I hope to do secondary school teaching.”

Life outside studies

Life outside college is busy as he helps out on his parents’ dairy farm and keeps a variety of poultry from bantams to larger fowl – which he enters at agricultural shows when he gets the time. He also helps out his sister, Maggie, who is a well-known referee at national level in the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.

“I referee in Cavan and Ulster. Last year I took charge of my first provincial final between Donegal and Armagh. I’m a national panel umpire; I get to travel the length and breath of the country umpiring,” Martin said.

“We have done a wide variety of finals across county and country. These finals run from underage to senior. In 2014, we officiated at the TG4 senior All-Ireland final between Cork and Dublin in Croke Park. Last December we officiated at the All-Ireland club final.”

With the Leaving Cert to the forefront of many students’ minds at present, Martin has the following advice for this year’s candidates: “Always put down the course you really want first on your CAO application. It’s your application; your future.”

He added: “You have until July to change your mind. If you have a chance to go to college open days, do so. Speak to existing students and get a feel for the campus. And remember there are alternative routes into college.”