The Aviva Stadium is in sight for the four clubs who will take to the field in this weekend’s FAI Junior Cup Semi Finals.
The Final, hosted at the home of Irish football as part of Aviva’s sponsorship of the competition, takes place on the 14th May with only Sheriff from the last four having previously walked out in the Dublin 4 venue.
Most recently losing last year’s Final in extra time to Liffey Wanderers after last winning the title at the Aviva in 2013.
On Saturday night St. Peter’s from Athlone will take on 2011 winners Pike Rovers at Leah Victoria Park in Tullamore. Peter’s are very much the underdogs in the semi finals but have accounted for several high profile scalps on the way to the last four including former winners Westport United in round six.
Former Athlone Town striker Noel McGee will lead the line for Philip Coffey’s side. McGee scored the vital penalty against Rivervalley in the Quarter Finals and has been prolific for Peter’s right through the competition.
The CCFL leaders will also look to former Longford Town duo Mick Lee and Ethan Nkololo for attacking inspiration, particularly Nkololo who will be tasked with trying to unlock a Pike defence that has conceded just twice en route to the semi finals.
Pike, second favourites for the competition this season behind Sheriff, will travel to Tullamore full of confidence after scoring eight without reply in the last two rounds. This included a 4-0 drubbing of last year’s semi finalists Clonmel Celtic in round seven.
Michael Shields side look primed to return to the final this season and bring the Cup back to Limerick for the first time since they last won it five years ago.
If they are to make the Aviva showpiece, they’ll have to do it without captain Wayne Colbert, who is suspended for this weekend’s clash. While Colbert will be missed, the captaincy will be taken over by Pat Mullins, a surviving member of the victorious 2011 side.
With quality all over the pitch fans will be looking to Cian Collins to light up Leah Victoria Park on Saturday night. Collins bagged a hat trick against 2014 finalists Ballynanty in round four and the former Limerick FC attacker may well cause havoc for St. Peter’s defence.
On Sunday the kingpins of Irish junior football Sheriff YC will take on Limerick’s Janesboro in the second of the semi finals. Sheriff return to the business end of the Junior Cup again this season and while Alan Reilly’s side have made the semi finals in each of the last four years, it was 2013 when they last lifted the trophy.
The perennial favourites tag won’t be of any comfort to this Sheriff team who will not want to go another season without securing Irish junior football’s top prize.
They haven’t shirked any challenges on the way to the Final having already beaten Fairview Rangers, North End United and bitter rivals Kilbarrack on the way to the last four. Their experience is unquestionable but they will have to be on top form to get past a Janesboro side who will fancy their chances on their trip to the capital. Sheriff will be without Jeff Flood who was sent off in the Quarter Final win over Kilbarrack although his brother Joe may make a return to the squad after a recent injury.
The Dublin side’s strength in depth was highlighted in the last round as they had the luxury of leaving their top scorer Stewy Glen on the bench.
Outside of Flood’s absence Sheriff will be at full strength and their spine of Lee and Paul Murphy, John Lester, Darren Dunne and John Rock will be to the fore as they hope to confirm their credentials as the country’s best junior soccer side.
Janesboro will not be phased by their trip to Dublin for this semi final clash. Shane O’Hanlon’s side negotiated a tough trip to Newmarket Celtic in the Quarter Finals and came away with a 1-0 win.
They will again be looking to captain and top scorer Shane Clarke to help fire them to a date at the Aviva Stadium in May. Shane’s brother Thomas will marshall a defence that has only conceded one goal in 630 minutes of Junior Cup football this season.
Having accounted for Waterford’s Hibernians FC and Galway’s Salthill Devon before knocking out Newmarket, Janesboro will be confident they can overcome the threat of Sheriff on Sunday to secure a place in the final for the first time in their history.