There is a certain fatalist attitude from Shamrock Rovers supporters about the FAI Cup. It is 32 years since the Hoops last lifted the trophy. There is no talk from fans in Tallaght of ‘the drive to 25’ or of being ‘cup specials’.
The club’s cup failure - wracked up year on year since leaving Milltown - has turned the cup into a millstone. Most recently the Hoops were dumped out of the cup at the first hurdle by First Division Drogheda United last season.
The FAI Cup is now the last chance of silverware for Rovers in 2019 after falling off the pace behind Dundalk in the league, being eliminated on penalties by Bray Wanderers in the EA Sports Cup and losing in the Leinster Senior Cup last weekend to Killester Donnycarney (albeit with an under-19 team).
Having said all that, this is a Shamrock Rovers squad more than good enough to win the cup. They have shown themselves good enough to beat any team in the league – bar the recent results against a resurgent Bohemians! While Friday is the only all Premier Division cup tie, coming out with a home draw does make things easier.
Alan Mannus was in goal the last time Rovers made the FAI Cup Final on a day back in 2010 when now manager Stephen Bradley was sent off before Sligo Rovers prevailed on penalties.
Since becoming manager three years ago, Bradley has completely reshaped the squad. With Trevor Clarke’s recent departure, there is now no players at the club who played in his first game – the 1-1 draw against RoPS Rovaniemi in the Europa League.
Over time he has moved players on and made some shrewd additions. That includes bringing back Graham Burke who will inevitably come into the team having missed out on the Europa League action last week in Cyprus. The thought of a team in Tallaght with Burke and Jack Byrne is a mouth-watering prospect.
While Rovers will be smarting from the exit from Europe last week at the hands of Apollon Limassol, they can take much credit for taking their opponents into extra-time in the second leg and coming so close to making it into the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
Now is the time though for this Hoops squad to show just how good they are. The Rovers supporters, not known for their patience, want to see some silverware return to Tallaght. Friday’s game against Finn Harps is a crucial first step.
Ollie Horgan isn’t holding out too much hope of a cup upset against the Hoops in Tallaght judging on his review of Harps recent games against Stephen Bradley’s men.
“They will give us a tanking if we are not at the top of our game,” said Horgan speaking to his club’s media team ahead of the cup tie. “Shamrock Rovers are a top side and are 29 points ahead of us in the table.
“We have lost all three league games against them this season and conceded seven goals into the bargain. And as well as that we haven’t managed to score against them in any of those matches.”
Horgan’s team do at least come into the game in some good form on the back of three league wins in a row including a 1-0 win last week over fourth placed Bohemians.
“The good recent win in league won’t get us a result in Tallaght. We have worked hard this week on the tactical side of things, so we’ll see now whether that will be good enough to make us competitive in Tallaght.
Throwing his eyes over the Rovers squad, there appears a certain amount of envy from Horgan about who the Hoops can call upon. “Stephen Bradley has strengthened again in the transfer window. He’s signed three top forwards in Graham Burke, Neil Farrugia and Graham Cummins.
“Graham Burke has been on the Republic of Ireland senior team and scored, so he’s a huge addition. But, they have quality all over the field with Joey O’Brien and Roberto Lopez at the back, then in midfield there’s the likes of Jack Byrne and Ronan Finn.”
Should Harps progress they will go into the second round draw which will take place next Monday (12 August) at 5pm from FAI HQ in Abbotstown. The draw will be streamed live via the FAIreland Facebook page.
Referee: Rob Rogers
Shamrock Rovers have won a record 24 FAI Cup but only Hoops supporters in the late 30s and older remember the last time the trophy was adorned with green and white ribbons for Rovers. 50 years ago the Hoops made it six FAI Cup wins in a row beating Cork Celtic 4-1 in a replay. 1974 was the first and only time that Harps have won the cup.
Harps have lost their last seven league games Rovers. The Hoops have beaten Harps at home 3-0 this season to go with 3-0 and 1-0 wins in Finn Park. In 2017 Rovers won all three league games against Harps, with 3-2 and 4-1 victories in Tallaght and a 1-0 win in Ballybofey, while the previous year Rovers won 2-0 in August 2016. The last time Harps avoided defeat to Rovers was the 1-1 draw in Tallaght in May 2016.
It is 18 years since the teams last met in the FAI Cup. In February 2001, Rovers beat Harps 3-0 in Finn Park.
Shamrock Rovers 2 – 0 Finn Harps
Doubtful: Neil Farrugia, Graham Cummins, Joey O’Brien.
Injured: Michael Gallagher, Mark Coyle and Ciaran Gallagher.