Tonight, the Limerick non-league side are back in Dublin to take on St Patrick’s Athletic in the FAI Senior Cup in far from ideal circumstances, with manager Mick Shiels saying his side is on its last legs due to their hectic end of season schedule.
“We’re not in great shape,” said Dubliner Shiels.
“We were up in Dublin last week for the FAI Junior final.
“The level that we’re at, it’s difficult for lads to get two Saturdays off in a row.
“We picked up a few knocks last week, so we’re down to the bare bones.
“It’s coming to the end of our season and we’re running on fumes.
“We’ve a league to try to win in Limerick, we’ve cups to try to win, like the final last week.
“That was a big emotional occasion which has taken a lot out of the players.
“It was disappointing to lose, but it was a great day for the club.
“Losing is never nice, but we were beaten by the better team on the day.
“We had to take it on the chin. We stayed in the game as long as we could but Sheriff were the better team.”
With the timing of the senior cup to the detriment of the non-league sides who are at the business end of their seasons, Shiels believes playing League of Ireland sides isn’t what it used to be for many junior and intermediate players.
“It is going to be tough for us,” said Shiels.
“Last week was a big occasion for my players. You get to go to the Aviva... the razzamatazz around the FAI Junior Cup final at the Aviva, the TV coverage and all the press interest around it.
“This week, believe it or not, really isn’t a novelty for them.
“From my point of view as a coach, this would be bigger, the biggest cup in the country.
“You want to perform well in it and represent yourself well. But the junior players may not see it that way because, let’s be honest, they don’t see a way they can win.”
In Cian Collins, Stephen McGann, Wayne Colbert, and Dave Ryan, Shiels has some League of Ireland experience in his squad.
But he’s missing several key players this afternoon.
“Eoin Hanrahan, a go-to player for me, is out, along with Stephen McGann, probably our best midfielder.
“Shane Walsh, another midfielder, and Gary Higgins, a forward, are also missing.
“We’d like to be going up under different circumstances. I’d like to be travelling with a strong side.
“I think we could make a good show of ourselves.
“We’re not going to get to play against this quality of player week-in week-out and my players should just take the chance to have a look at what it does take to be a top player in this country.”
Fresh from a comfortable league win over Finn Harps on Tuesday, St Pat’s are without defender Darren Dennehy (hip), Christy Fagan (foot), and Conan Byrne (back) while Ian Bermingham faces a late fitness test.
Other non-league sides hoping to cause an upset tonight are Bluebell United, who have conceded home advantage as they travel to meet runaway First Division leaders Limerick, and fellow Leinster Senior League title contenders Crumlin United who are at Finn Harps.
Beaten by Killester United at this stage last year, Cobh Ramblers will be wary of Cherry Orchard at St Colman’s Park while Letterkenny Rovers of the Ulster Senior League visit Athlone Town, who were knocked out by Sheriff in the third round last year.
This year’s third round of the competition will definitely have two non-league sides in it as Ringmahon Rangers host Glebe North this afternoon while Sheriff travel to Janesboro tomorrow.
Tonight’s fixtures (7.45 unless stated) Athlone Town v Letterkenny Rovers Bluebell Utd v Limerick (Markets Field, 2pm) Cobh Ramblers v Cherry Orchard (2.30pm) Finn Harps v Crumlin Utd (8pm) Ringmahon Rangers v Glebe North (2pm) Sligo Rovers v Cabinteely St Patrick’s Athletic v Pike Rovers (3pm) Tomorrow Janesboro v Sheriff YC (2pm)