Cork City lead the parade as the holders, of course, and begin the defence of the crown with a tricky game away to Bray Wanderers this evening.
“We won the cup last year and we want to get another run going this year,” says City boss John Caulfield. “There is a bit of magic about the cup. We know that from being in the Aviva last year and the year before. It is a one-off, there is always a buzz about it and we know how good Bray are, so we will need a top performance.
“Harry (Kenny) has done incredibly well at Bray. They are probably looking at us now thinking it is a real opportunity to get a cup run. They have kept all of their key players and they are back focused after a difficult few weeks, so I am sure they will be looking forward to the game.”
Ballincollig, who have covered their town in green and white bunting in the build up to today’s game against Athlone Town in CIT Athletics Stadium, will be backboned by members of last year’s FAI Youth Cup-winning team.
Before that final, coach Denis Murphy had said: “It’s the first All Ireland final for the club. They are keeping the adult section going. It has created an unbelievable buzz in the club. Players are staying involved because they can see what is coming down the line”.
Indeed, less than a year later, the senior team got promoted up a division in the Munster Senior League and now comes another big step on the club’s journey with the arrival south of First Division Athlone Town in the country’s premier cup competition.
Cobh Ramblers play Limerick at home, having benefited immensely from the players brought through the youth systems recently., with two of those hoping to be involved this evening, Dean Swords and Scott McCarthy, both holders of national youth medals with Cork.
Says Limerick midfielder Lee-J Lynch: “It’s a tough place to go. We’re used to playing Cobh, we had them a lot last year, down in Cobh especially. They make it a big battle there. We need to go down there with the right attitude and make sure we get the job done because we’re not on a good run at the moment.” Togher-based side Everton who play Bangor Celtic away today are also backboned by graduates from the youth system. Last year’s youth team manager Joe O’Donoghue observes: “They regularly trained with the seniors last season and many of them played underage for both Cobh Ramblers and Munster, so this shows the quality coming through the youth set-up”.
Meanwhile, a non-league side is guaranteed progress to the second round – the draw for which will be live on RTÉ’s ‘Soccer Republic’ on Monday – when Cobh Wanderers and Killarney Celtic meet at Oldchurch Park this afternoon.
Longford Town versus Sligo Rovers completes today’s fixtures while tomorrow sees minnows Evergreen, Killester United and Portmarnock all up against Premier Division opponents while Bluebell United and Sheriff YC meet in a high noon non-league Dublin derby.
But undoubtedly the pick of the remaining First Round games is the mouthwatering clash of Dundalk and Derry City at Oriel Park tomorrow evening, a game which will see the Lilywhites’ Patrick McEleney come up against his old club.
“Derry City are a good side and are having a good season,” he says. “We have had two difficult games against them already so we know that we are in for a difficult game tomorrow.
“We take nothing for granted in any game and we prepare the same way regardless of the opponent. We probably couldn’t have had a tougher draw at this stage but all you can ask for is a home draw. We got that so we want to take advantage of it. We have had a good week and hopefully we can carry that momentum into the game.”
Cobh Wanderers v Killarney Celtic, Oldchurch Park, 4pm; Cobh Ramblers v Limerick, St. Colman’s Park, 7.45pm; Ballincollig v Athlone Town, CIT, 5pm; Bangor Celtic v Everton, Iveagh Grounds, 6.30pm; Bray Wanderers v Cork City, Carlisle Grounds, 7pm; Longford Town v Sligo Rovers, City Calling Stadium, 7.30pm.
Bluebell United v Sheriff YC, Red Cow, 12pm; Evergreen v Drogheda United, Evergreen Park, 2pm; Killester United v Galway United, Haddon Park, 2pm; Portmarnock v St. Patrick’s Athletic, Paddy’s Hill, 2pm; Dundalk v Derry City, Oriel Park, 6.30pm.