The FAI Ford Cup Second Round kicks off this weekend with 14 ties (2 are postponed because of the Sheriff YC v Kilbarrack United FAI Junior Cup final tomorrow in the Aviva Stadium). The 28 teams involved are made up of 11 Airtricity League Premier Division clubs, 8 First Division clubs, 8 Intermediate Clubs and 1 Junior Club (Pike Rovers from Limerick). Plenty of variety but here’s what we’re looking out for
1) Who will emerge from the 2 all-Premier Division ties
St Patrick’s Athletic’s cup woes are well documented. Last year’s cup final defeat was their 7th since last winning the cup in 1961 and once again their fans will talk about this year being “the one”. With a side on top of the league, and having just beaten UCD 5-0 on Tuesday, they probably should approach Saturday’s game with confidence. That isn’t how football fandom works though and there will be Pats fans convinced that UCD will win easily. Only Shelbourne have earned less points than the other 2 teams involved in an all-Premier tie and Drogheda United and Bohemians will approach this game looking for a win to kick start the second half of the season. The sides played out an entertaining 2-2 draw a month ago but both have lost 3 of 4 since.
2) Will either of the 2 bookmaker favourites lose to First Division opponents?
They may disagree on who is favourite but all bookmakers have both Rovers, Sligo and Shamrock, as the top 2 in the betting market for this year’s Cup. Sligo had reach 3 successive Cup finals (winning in 2010, 2011) before being shocked last year by Monaghan. While the League champions have stumbled recently, they will be expected to win away to Waterford United, who appear to be in something of a crisis. Paul O’Brien resigned as manager 2 weeks ago and this week saw the PFAI win their case against the club over the handling of Gary Dunphy’s injuries. The Tallaght based Rovers have disappointed in the league this season but have already picked up the Setanta Sports Cup and manager Trevor Croly has indicated that cups will now be a priority. Rovers, record winners of the Cup, haven’t won it in 26 years and should dispose of Salthill Devon in Terryland Park. The Galway side picked up their first league win of the season last week on Cobh and ran a second-string pats side close in the EA Sports Cup recently
3) Will a non-league side beat a Premier Division side?
4 Premier Division sides face non league opposition and all go into the weekend in very different situations. Cup holders Derry City ended the first series on top of the league but have only won once since. They face the long, long journey to play Blarney United and should be too strong. Limerick travel to play Palmerstown’s Glenville in Dublin and will hope to add a cup run to their solid season back in the top division. Dundalk played Phoenix on the back of their excellent win in Sligo and manager Stephen Kenny’s cup pedigree is second to none. Bottom side Shelbourne host Bandon and new manager John McDonnell will be using to get a better idea of what he has at his disposal.
4) The First Division sides may be more troubled by non-league opposition
Athlone Town face Bluebell United and manager Roddy Collins will be fully aware of the dangers the Dublin side can create. Longford Town are flying at the top of the First Division but sent out a weakened side against Drogheda in the EA Sports Cup. If they do the same at home to Pike Rovers they could be in trouble. Cobh Ramblers’ return to the League has seen their young side create plenty of excitement but they clearly lack experience and haven’t won in 6 games. St Patrick’s CY are becoming ever present in these cup draws and may have too much know-how.
5) Expect much wailing over crowd numbers
With no stand out ties and little in the way of local rivalry being played out, there isn’t anything huge to grab the attention of the sporting public for most clubs. Early round cup games will generally draw lower crowds than usual for Premier Division clubs and with great weather sending families out for the bank holiday weekend, this week probably won’t be any different. It’s pretty likely there’ll be some sort of ‘state of the game’ debate to follow in some media. The reality is that for most floating fans, the league is more important until the latter rounds and with multiple distractions these week, the numbers are always going to dip. Those who attend though, will likely get their money’s worth.
Whatever happens, enjoy the games!