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The Cup of Wonder… FAI Cup

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The draw for the last 16 of the FAI Cup took place last week, with the games to take place at the end of August. This year’s Cup will be like no other in living memory with the absence of sides from outside the League of Ireland; potential ‘giant killings’ will be restricted to First Division clubs knocking out Premier Division rivals.

Not even every First Division club was in the draw – part of the deal that allowed Shamrock Rovers 2 come in to fill the Limerick FC void was that they couldn’t compete in the FAI Cup. This necessitated an unusual first round of three ties that saw Dundalk, Cork and Finn Harps come through to the last 16 draw at the expense of Waterford, Longford Town and St Patrick’s Athletic respectively.

Apart from the all-Premier tie between Shamrock Rovers and Cork and the all-First tie between Athlone Town and Wexford FC, the draw saw Premier teams paired with First Division teams. That makes six opportunities for shocks, and if none of them come off at least there will be one First Division side in the hat for the quarters [from the Athlone versus Wexford tie].

I’m expecting a couple of shocks though. Bray Wanderers at home to Finn Harps fits the bill; the game will be a repeat of the epic 1999 final that saw The Seagulls overcome Harps after three games at Tolka Park, handing yours truly the perfect 30th birthday present!

Elsewhere, UCD at home to Sligo is winnable for the students if they are on form, and the same can be said for Drogheda hosting Derry City. Shelbourne won’t be taking anything for granted as they travel to Galway, and neither will Dundalk who face the long trek down to Cobh. The remaining tie sees Bohemians host Cabinteely and The Gypsies will underestimate Cabo at their peril – Pat Devlin’s FAI Cup experience, knowledge and pedigree is second to none.

Being fond of the odd dive into football history, I wondered if the draw had thrown up any memories of FAI Cup finals past, aside from Bray and Harps.

The pairing of Shamrock Rovers and Cork jumped out from the statistics. There was the 1935-36 final between Rovers and ‘Cork’ [essentially the old Fordsons works team from the Ford factory] which Rovers won 2-1 in a packed Dalymount Park [31,000 spectators]. That Cork side competed in the League of Ireland between 1924 and 1938 [they changed name from Fordsons to Cork in 1930] before being replaced by a new Cork team, called …. Cork City!

That City side only existed for 2 seasons before morphing into Cork United, who competed in the League between 1940 and 1948. By 1955-56 there was a Cork Athletic in the League, and they reached that year’s Cup final, also against Shamrock Rovers. Again Rovers triumphed, this time 3-2 in an even-more-packed Dalymount Park [35,000 spectators!].

In the 1960’s Shamrock Rovers were all-conquering in the FAI Cup, winning six instalments of it in a row between 1963-64 and 1968-69. These six wins were bookended by wins over another Cork outfit, Cork Celtic!

So, lots of memories then for Rovers fans of a certain age, and older followers of soccer in Cork. The game between the modern-day Rovers and City certainly has ‘tie of the round’ written all over it. Rovers will believe they can achieve the double; Cork will want Cup success to kick-start a league campaign that has been slow to gather momentum.

The Cup never fails to entertain. Even in these strange times it is still the Cup of Wonder!

Brian Quigley

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