St. Patrick’s Athletic booked their place in this year’s FAI Cup semi-finals with a disjointed 3-2 victory over First Division play-off hopefuls Cobh Ramblers. Early first-half goals from Christy Fagan and Jamie McGrath meant it was a comfortable opening half in the September sunlight at Richmond Park before Ramblers made a game of it in the second period with two goals in quick succession.
Still pushing for an alternative route to European football for next season, St. Pat’s manager Buckley wrote in his programme notes of the game’s potential as a cup classic. His prophetic words rang true in a tumultuous second half which saw his side let a three goal cushion slip to allow the score reach a boiling point of 3-2 before the Saints nervously saw the result out in an end-to-end final half an hour.
Cobh Ramblers were vying to earn their place in the competition's semi-final stage for the first time since 1982/1983 when, then as a non-league amatuer side, they were knocked out by eventual winners Sligo Rovers following an astonishing three replays.
St. Pats meanwhile held Saturday’s game with an unshakeable regard, with below-par league performances this season meaning the acquisition of European football for next summer can now only be achieved through this year’s FAI Cup.
Any nerves that might have been present in the Inchicore air on account of the game’s importance both from a long-term financial perspective and to the club’s season as a whole this year, were quickly banished after 15 minutes when defender Sean Hoare, back in the starting eleven following Ireland U-21 duty, raked a beautiful crossfield ball floating into the box.
There was no other conclusion in sight apart from a goal when the ball roamed its way towards the back post where striker Christy Fagan nudged a neat header under the dive of Cobh goalkeeper Paul Hunt to steal the lead.
Six minutes later the Saints’ advantage was doubled when a clinical set-piece routine involving Conan Byrne, Lee Desmond and captain Ger O’Brien just outside the box saw the ball fall on a plate to meet the untracked run of Jamie McGrath inside the penalty area.
McGrath cracked a powerful strike past Hunt with a firm conviction and confidence not in the armoury of most 19-year-olds before Billy Dennehy made it 3-0 before the first-half was out when Conan Byrne provided a mazy run into the Cobh box along the right wing.
Byrne manoeuvred the ball onto his weaker left foot before selflessly passing possession of the ball toward Dennehy, unmarked at the back post, where the forward had the easiest of tap-ins to put the game’s result seemingly beyond any realm of doubt after 37 minutes, with the second half still to play.
However, Cobh made a game of it in the second period, coming straight out of the blocks from the break, as Michael Barker conceded a penalty when he took down Connor Ellis on 47 minutes – the striker barely on the field of play two minutes since his introduction at the break – following a long ball out from the back from fellow impact sub Anthony Comerford.
Ellis took charge of the spot-kick himself and made no mistake, striking the dead-ball just beyond the fingertips of Brendan Clarke’s dive into the bottom right corner to make it 3-1 with forty minutes still to play for.
And it certainly was all to play for on the hour mark when some unforgivable lapses at the back for St. Pat’s allowed Rob Lehane the opportunity to dribble past Sean Hoare and roll a tame effort right into the corner of the net, out of reach of Brendan Clarke to bring Cobh to 3-2 and within one goal of levelling - the game’s momentum now entirely in their favour and the first half turned on its head.
St. Pats edged forward knowing another goal should knock their opponent's confidence up and away from Richmond Park, but Cobh kept at it with Charlie Fleming lending quick, direct dribbling skills to a high and backpedalling St. Pats defence already under pressure from the explosive pairing of Rob Lehane and Ellis up top.
Late pressure was relentless from Cobh as cross after cross into the box fed live-wire Ellis, but St Pats – led by the furious desire of Sean Hoare and goalkeeper Brendan Clarke to head and punch every conceivable ball towards some degree of safety – saw the game to a close, as the search for silverware and the search for Europe rolls on for the Saints.
St. Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien (Rory Feely 66), Sean Hoare, Michael Barker, Ian Bermingham; Graham Kelly, Lee Desmond, Conan Byrne, Jamie McGrath (Jonathan Lunney 40), Billy Dennehy, Christy Fagan
Subs not used: Pat Jennings Jr (gk), Mark Timlin, Sam Verdon, Dinny Corcoran
Cobh Ramblers: Paul Hunt; Ben O’Riordan, Chris McCarthy, Kevin Mulcahy, Eoin McGreevey (Kyle McNamara 78), Rob Lehane, Stephen Christopher (Garry Comerford 45), Ian Mylod, Shane O’Connor, Charlie Fleming, Jonathan Creamer (Conor Ellis 45)
Subs not used: Anthony Comerford, Cian Kingston, Scott McCarthy, Jason Abbott
Bookings: Connor Ellis (59)
Referee: Sean Grant
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Conan Byrne (St. Patrick’s Athletic)