Three clubs - Finn Harps, Letterkennny Rovers and Glengad United - will carry the Donegal flag into the first round of the FAI Cup this weekend, but it would be a brave punter than gambles too much on any of them getting through.
Finn Harps and Letterkenny Rovers are away to Premier Division sides Shamrock Rovers and UCD respectively, while Inishowen’s Glengad United face a trip to Tipperary to take on a St. Michael’s side who beat them at the same venue in semi-finals of the FAI Junior Cup.
The bookies generally get it fairly right in the FAI Cup. So when you see Paddy Power quoting 66/1 on Harps to win it outright with Letterkenny and Glengad at 500/1 (Dundalk are 9/4 favourites with Shamrock Rovers at 3/1), you can see why there is not too much cup fever in the county.
That said, the beauty of the cup is that there are occasionally big upsets. Older readers will remember the great exploits of Cobh Ramblers in the 1980s, and, of course, non-league St. Francis, who reached the final in 1990.
Shamrock Rovers v. Finn Harps
Make no mistake about it, Shamrock Rovers will be going all out to win this year’s FAI Cup, and they’ll be strongly fancied to overcome their first hurdle obstacle in the form of Finn Harps.
Rovers have won the competition more than anyone else - with 24 titles.
Back in the 1980s, Rovers won four league titles in a row and three FAI Cups, beginning with the 1-0 win over Galway in 1985. Noel King, who had a spell as manager of Finn Harps, was on the winning side that day while Dennis Bonner - a brother of Packie Bonner - played in defence for Galway.
They won it again in 1986, against Waterford, and in 1987 against Dundalk.
But they have failed to win it since!
Fast forward to the current season and Rovers are surely on course to finish as runners-up to Dundalk.
Manager Stephen Bradley is under pressure to deliver success, and the cup is surely now very high on the priority list for the Hoops.
While Harps won’t be out of pocket (they get a proportion of the gate receipts), manager Ollie Horgan admits that playing-wise it’s the second worst draw they could have have got, the other being Dundalk, away (as was the case last season).
“Earlier this season we took a tanking up there,” Horgan recalled. “We were 3-0 down at half-time and God knows what the score could have been if they had not taken the foot off the pedal.
“How do we approach it? We have to approach it like a league game that matters. Otherwise we could get overrun. It’s probably a game where there is no expectations. We need a lot of things to go our way. If we can make it difficult for them and keep the game alive into the second half and take it from there that will be an achievement.”
Harps go into the game after their best run of results this season.
American Josh Smith is set to make his debut for Harps, but Horgan was keeping his cards close to his chest in relation to just how strong a side he intends to put out.
Rovers’ last outing was in the Europa League, where they made their exit in the second qualifying round having lost 4-3 on aggregate against Apollon Limassol of Cyprus.
Ominously for Harps, Rovers trounced UCD 7-0 in their last home league game.
Certainly it is hard to see anything but a win for Rovers.
Friday. Shamrock Rovers v. Finn Harps, Tallaght, Stadium. 8.00 pm
St. Michael’s v. Glengad United
Glengad United made history by overcoming famous Dublin side Home Farm in the last qualifying round. Home Farm actually won the FAI Cup back in 1975, and played in the League of Ireland from 1972-1999.
To get St. Michael’s was a bad draw for Glengad. Financially, it will mean a big outlay again. But they know that they are certainly in with a chance of progressing against the side from the Tipperary South District league.
The hosts will be carrying the firm favourites tag, having had the better of Glengad previously.
But Glengad manager Shane Byrne inists their previous encounter was as tight as they come, and he is hopeful Saturday's clash will be a similar scenario.
He said: "It pretty much came down to the kick of a ball when we met in the junior cup, and this is definitely one where we could get a result.
"Look, we're never going to win the FAI Cup, but the dream outcome for us would be to get a result here and then draw the likes of Shamrock Rovers away from home in the next round - you just never know."
Saturday. St. Michael’s v. Glengad United, Cooke Park, 3.00 pm
UCD v. Letterkenny Rovers
UCD may be bottom of the Premier Division but there is a considerable gulf between the top flight and the Ulster Senior League. And given that Rovers go into the game effectively out of season and without a run of recent competitive fixtures, the students’ superior fitness levels will be a big factor.
As part of their preparations, Rovers beat Glengad 3-0 in a friendly last week with goals from Emmett Friars, BJ Banda, and Declan Sharkey.
Rovers have had a number of forays into the FAI Cup over the years, but with limited success.
Rovers’ boss Eamon McConigley knows all about cup-upsets - not least from his days with Fanad United - but it would be a major upset if the Cathedral Town side can shock the students in their own back-yard.
Sunday, UCD v. Letterkenny Rovers, UCD Bowl, 2.00 pm.
The Online news and sports website Extra.ie (which is connected to the Irish Daily Mail) is the new sponsor for this season’s Extra.ie FAI Cup.
FAI Cup 1st Round Fixtures
Friday, August 9th
Bohemians v Shelbourne
Cabinteely v Cork City
Cobh Wanderers v Limerick
Derry City v Wexford, 7.45
Drogheda United v Avondale United
St Patricks Athletic v Bray Wanderers
Glebe North v Sligo Rovers
Shamrock Rovers v Finn Harps
Saturday, August 10th
St. Michaels v Glengad United
Crumlin United v Malahide United
Cobh Ramblers v Dundalk
Longford Town v Athlone Town
Sunday, August 11th
Lucan United v Killester Donnycarney
Collinstown v Galway United
UCD v Letterkenny Rovers
Maynooth University Town v Waterford
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