This coming week will be one of the highlights of the season for me. The entry of the 20 League of Ireland clubs into the FAI Cup, joining the 12 non-league survivors, is sure to serve up thrills and spills; shocks, upsets and giant-killings.
The Cup is a welcome break from the League, whether that is panning out as a title fight, a relegation struggle or a promotion push for your side. It’s a chance to dream of qualifying for Europe via an alternative route to the League. Bring it on.
Looking at the ties there are some interesting ones thrown up by the draw. There are 2 all non-league games, meaning at least 2 sides from outside the SSE Airtricity League Premier and First Division will contest the last 16. Both these games are scheduled for Saturday – Maynooth University hosting Leeds Cork and Dublin Bus hosting CIE Ranch, the latter game having the added bragging rights up for grabs of being the transport top dogs.
Friday night sees Bray host Finn Harps in a rerun of the classic 1998-99 final that took 3 ties to decide [in Bray’s favour]. Bray, in positive mood since Niall O’Driscoll took over the club, will see the Cup as a pleasant diversion from an almost-certain relegation.
On the same night Drogheda will fancy their chances of knocking out Shamrock Rovers. Drogheda are going well in the First Division and are almost certain of a play-off spot. Rovers, although having the distinction of being the most-decorated side in FAI Cup history with 24 wins, haven’t won the competition since 1986-87 – a wait of 31 years and counting. If Stephen Bradley could bring the Cup back to Tallaght he would surely cement a place in Rovers history for ending such a long drought.
Of Dublin’s other League sides, Bohemians – who haven’t won the Cup since 2008 – have a potential-banana-skin trip to Wexford to negotiate on Friday while Shelbourne should see off Athlone at Tolka Park as they seek their first Cup title since 1999-2000. UCD have a home tie against Pike Rovers on Friday while Cabinteely have a difficult tie away to Newmarket Celtic on Saturday. St Patrick’s Athletic have a local derby against Inchicore Athletic to navigate on Friday if they are to stay on course for their first Cup title since 2014, which was the last time the Cup made it back to Dublin.
Elsewhere holders Cork face Home Farm at Whitehall on Sunday. 2013 winners Sligo host Longford on Saturday; Longford will be looking to revive memories of their back-to-back successes in 2003 and 2004. FAI Junior Cup winners North End United have a home tie against Galway on Saturday while non-league Cockhill host Limerick on Sunday. 2015 winners Dundalk host Cobh on Friday while Blarney United host Derry City on Saturday.
I’m planning to get to 3 games – Bray on Friday night, Home Farm on Sunday and Skerries sandwiched in between on Saturday as they host Waterford. Whichever game or games you’re going to, I hope the Cup serves up some magic for you!