Why the romance of the FA Cup still thrives for Irish players

Anyone doubting the value of the FA Cup would be hard-pressed to apply their theory on a clutch of Irish players involved over the weekend in the third round, particularly two of Plymouth’s Anfield heroes.
Why the romance of the FA Cup still thrives for Irish players

Graham Carey and Connor Smith played their part in holding the Premier League title contenders scoreless, forcing them into an unwanted replay in Dorset on Wednesday week, and the duo may well have thought their days of gracing a massive stage of its ilk were over.

Like the vast majority of their compatriots operating across English football, Carey and Smith will never line out to the booming soundtrack of the Champions League. Competing at the upper echelons of the Premier League too is beyond the realistic objectives of the Irish brigade in the modern era of the globalised top-flight.

Silverware amongst the current Irish squad is virtually non-existent, with James McCarthy’s FA Cup winners’ medal from his days at Wigan Athletic shining brightest. Keith Fahey, now retired, was the last Irishman to be part of a winning team in the League Cup showpiece back in 2011 for Birmingham City.

More plentiful in the repertoire of the Irish are play-off final triumphs down the divisions or, in the case of Dubliner Carey, his Scottish League Cup success in 2013 while with St Mirren.

Smith, the native of Devlin in Westmeath who came on at Anfield on Sunday, had the privilege of featuring at Wembley last May, starting Wimbledon’s League Two play-off final victory.

In keeping with the nomadic existence of a footballer shuffling on the carousel outside of the Premier League, each were released by their respective clubs following those highs, leading them to join Plymouth in the fourth tier.

The type of attention the Irish pair received since Sunday was nothing new to them, albeit a long time in coming since such adulation last visited their door.

Carey was recruited by Celtic as a teen from Shelbourne and, though his first-team debut followed in the Europa League, it was his peer, Cillian Sheridan, who accrued more than one appearance.

Smith also had clubs scampering for his services. Before he’d even entered the professional game, his face was familiar to millions of television viewers as a contender for Sky’s reality TV show, Football’s Next Star.

The competition to win a contract at Inter Milan, endorsed by then boss Jose Mourinho, didn’t deliver the first prize to the midfielder but his displays at Watford’s training ground during the filming earned him a deal from the Hornets in 2012.

He made 13 appearances, all in cup competitions and the Championship, rather than the Premier League which they gained promotion to in 2015. Now, the 20-somethings are back in the big time and yearning to extend the experience past next week’s replay.

Carey, a lifelong Liverpool fan, initially welled up as he spoke on the pitch after Sunday’s stalemate before turning his focus to the rematch. History has conditioned him not to dwell on the high or lows of what a career brings.

Only two years ago, a two-week trial at Dundee United came to nothing and he remained unemployed. “It is a bit frustrating not knowing what is happening with your future,” he lamented.

Richie Towell was a teammate of Carey’s at Celtic and has likewise journeyed a circuitous route from the point of being cast aside at Parkhead.

After a year of set-backs since joining from Dundalk, the 25-year-old started just his second game for Brighton and Hove Albion in the win over MK Dons. Irish internationals Daryl Murphy and Marc Wilson, both plagued by injuries in the second half of 2016, also got their first starts in a couple of months on Saturday and our latest export, Daryl Horgan, made his Preston North End debut.

That FA Cup is a dwindling institution, isn’t it? Not for the Irish, anyway.

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