The top two in the league will be hoping to remain on course for the ultimate cup clash at the Aviva Stadium when the FAI Cup quarter-finals take place this evening.
While Dundalk and Cork City are involved in all-Premier Division contests against, respectively, Sligo Rovers and Derry City, the other two last eight games see non-league Sheriff YC and Killester United dreaming of giant-killing against top-flight Longford Town and Bray Wanderers.
Logic suggests the Lilywhites and the Rebels should be the last two standing in the competition — except that the one-off nature of the cup is such that, as has been proven many times, anything can happen on the night.
Cork City boss John Caulfield understands that as well as anybody in the game but, as his side travel to the Brandywell, where kick off is at 7.45pm, he’s banking on form and quality counting for most.
“The cup is different feeling to the league because you know that, if you don’t perform on the night, you’re gone,” he conceded.
“In the cup, everyone is always dreaming and hoping that they will get to the Aviva and that is natural. But we don’t need to dream — we need to play well!”
For embattled Derry boss Peter Hutton, the first goal is to get what he calls “the nightmare” of their 2-0 league defeat to Drogheda out of the team’s system. “It will be a nice distraction from the league programme,” he said, “but for me it’s all about attempting to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible. We want to get our confidence levels up, believe in ourselves and do everything in our power to overcome Cork, which will be difficult.”
Both sides will have absentees this evening, with Cork’s John Dunleavy and John Kavanagh sidelined through injury and summer signings Steven Beattie and Stephen Folan both cup-tied, while Caulfield also has doubts over the Colin Healy, Liam Miller and Alan Bennett.
Last year’s beaten finalists, meanwhile, will be without the suspended Philip Lowry and the cup-tied Ryan McBride and Cillian Morrison though, on the upside for Hutton, Stephen Dooley and Mark Timlin return to the squad.
League leaders Dundalk might be on the very brink of retaining their title but to keep their double hopes alive they must overcome a Sligo Rovers side at the Showgrounds which, last time out in the league, held the champions 2-2 at Oriel Park
That most recent result, says Sligo midfielder John Russell, means Dundalk will have a little doubt in their minds ahead of a game which, because of its live screening on RTÉ2, kicks off at 7.25pm.
“It’s a one-off. You definitely go into a game like this with a different frame of mind. With the result last weekend alone, Dundalk will fear us,” he said.
Dundalk’s Richie Towell
For Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny, however, it’s a case if not of fear then certainly of respect.
“We understand that they have a good cup tradition and they gave us a tough game last week,” he said. “Everything we get will be hard-earned.”
In tonight’s other two quarter-finals, the odds against a non-league side progressing have been made longer by the fact that Killester United have to travel to the Carlisle Grounds to take on Bray Wanderers (7.45pm) while Sherrif FC are also away from home, against Longford Town at the City Calling Stadium (8pm).
Meanwhile, there’s a big game in the SSE Airtricity First Division tonight, with leaders Wexford Youths at home to third-placed UCD at Ferrycarrig Park (8pm).
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