Richardson: Let’s turn on the style

THOSE who argue that the FAI Cup has shed much of its glamour in recent years should get a resounding response to the contrary at Turner’s Cross tonight, when the venue will be packed to capacity for the semi-final clash of the league’s big two, Cork City and Derry City (ko 7.40pm).

Now all the teams have to do is provide a spectacle for the live TV cameras and the crowd and, as they say, make for a good advertisement for the game.

Says City boss Damien Richardson: "This season has been a very beneficial year both in terms of TV and radio and the written press. It's important that we emphasise the quality we've already shown this season in the League right through to the end of the year.

"I want to win and my players want to win. Stephen (Kenny) and his players want to win but we can win with style because both teams play good football and both teams are speckled throughout with quality players. I would think we have a fairly good guarantee of a good game."

That said, Richardson is acutely aware from his own extensive experience as a player and a manager that a cup semi-final generates its own unique pressure, born of the nagging realisation that the biggest day itself is within touching distance and yet still tantalisingly out of reach.

"I've been in five or six semi-finals and lost just one," he says. "I've found losing a semi-final the hardest to take.

"If you lose a final, and I've lost one, at least you're there on the day. A semi, having won your way through, is a difficult place to lose. But this is a good tie for the neutral observer and for the fans of Derry and Cork.

"I think it will be a close encounter. There's no doubt about that. It might be a game where the first goal is of vital importance. I'm just hoping it's a game that nerves don't spoil, that the big build-up doesn't deflect the players from performing to their true ability."

Both sides are missing regulars going into the game. It's likely that Cork will again be without their usual first-choice strike force of John O'Flynn and Neale Fenn, but Joe Gamble does come back into the reckoning.

Willie Bruton, who played in the hard-won away victory over Finn Harps, is cup-tied having played for Waterford in an earlier round. If O'Flynn is ruled out, Richardson may look to Denis Behan to lead the line, with expert support from George O'Callaghan.

For Derry the problem is at the back, where they will have to cope again without the suspended Clive Delaney, with either Paddy McLaughlin or Mark McCrystal partnering Peter Hutton.

Manager Stephen Kenny reckons they can handle Delaney's absence: "Don't get me wrong, he'll be missed, but we won all three of the previous games he was out for."

Certainly, his counterpart in Cork is under no illusions about the strength of a Derry side whose fortunes have been utterly transformed under Kenny's guidance.

"It's down to leadership and discipline," says Richardson. "Derry have always got good players.

"They've always got talented individuals but, in the past, they have lost their way as a club and as a team from period to period. Sometimes they need a bit of a readjustment and Stephen Kenny has come in and done that on the park.

"The directors have obviously done likewise off the park and they're now a club of consequence again as they always should be."

As if a place in the cup final against either Drogheda or Bray wasn't sufficient reward in itself, the knock-on effect of the result of tonight's game in terms of the neck-and-neck league run-in could also be significant.

Not too far in the distance now is that final game of the season between the big two which could yet see the league decided in what would amount to an alternative cup final.

Tongue firmly in cheek, Richardson says: "There will be a psychological aspect to this game but I'm not a highly intelligent man so that kind of thing doesn't affect me. I only concentrate on one game at a time. In doing that, it keeps fear out of my heart and; doubt out of my mind."

In fact, Richardson's grasp of the psychology of winning is solidly rooted in the real world.

"The success of this season is that we've the ability to concentrate on one game at a time.

"The reality is that tonight is the most important game of the season because it's the next game and the FAI Cup is the most important trophy because it's the next competition we play in. That's the only way to go about your business."

Stephen Kenny is also inclined to keep his thoughts to tonight's 90 minutes, as Derry seek to extend a 25-game unbeaten run.

"I don't know if the result will make a difference in the long run," he says." Maybe a loss for one of the teams would leave them free to go off and focus even more clearly on the run-in, or maybe it would knock them back a bit.

"What I would say though is that this unbeaten run is something we'll be working very hard to maintain, because the fear is that once you lose one you could very quickly find yourself losing two or three."

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