And it could be a super Saturday today for Limerick who have a chance to claim the Airtricity League First Division title away to Longford Town. The FAI Cup will dominate the weekend action, however, and coming near the end of what he calls an “up and down” season for the club, Derry City manager Declan Devine is hoping his players can overcome Shelbourne tomorrow and reward the Foyleside support with a big day out at the cup final.
“The semi-final is a huge game for us,” he says. “Derry City have never been to the Aviva Stadium and I would like to be the first manager to get a team there. So we know there is a huge prize at the end of it, but we know it’s going to be very difficult in the semi-final and we’ll have to be right on top of our game.”
For Shels, last year’s big day out at the Aviva turned sour as the controversial sending off of Barry Clancy tipped the balance of the final in favour of Sligo Rovers who eventually edged it in a penalty shoot-out. If there is any lingering sense of grievance from that day it is “probably a subconscious thing”, according to manager Alan Mathews.
“It’s not something we’ve addressed, it’s not something we keep bringing up,” he says. “But the players themselves know. It was a wonderful occasion last year to play in the final, regardless of the result, and we’ve had a good year this year with the new experience of playing in the Premier Division.”
For city rivals St Pat’s – who travel to Oriel Park for their semi-final – the chance to reach the FAI Cup final draws attention once again to perhaps the most famous hoodoo in the domestic game – the fact that the club hasn’t managed to lift the trophy since 1961. But manager Liam Buckley insists that the current team won’t give in to the thought that, somehow, their name just isn’t on the cup.
“No, there won’t be one person in our dressing room thinking of 50 years of history,” he says. “It (the hoodoo) is mentioned but, it’s like when people talk about contracts and how big they are or whatever – having played at a reasonable level, there was never one game in my whole career that you would have thought about how much you were earning when you went over the line. You just go and play. It’s the same with the history. We have as big a chance of winning it this year as Shels, Dundalk and Derry.”
Pats go into the game as hot favourites to get the better of a Dundalk side which is rooted to the bottom of the Premier Division and gearing up for a relegation play-off. “We’re massive underdogs,” concedes manager Darius Kierans, “but we’ve gone to Richmond this year and beaten Pat’s with ten men so stranger things have happened.”
Meanwhile, Limerick can claim the First Division title and automatic promotion to the top flight today if they beat Longford Town at Flancare Park (7.30pm).
Says manager Pat Scully: “We got the result we deserved last Friday at home to a hard working Athlone Town team.. Now we have a very tough task away to Longford Town who have been excellent all season. Tony (Cousins) has done a great job up there and they are now preparing for the playoffs. We need a win to clinch the league and must be at our very best to do so in Longford.”