[caption id="attachment_67258" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Cork City's Vincent Escude-Candau, left, and Conor Kenna of St. Patrick's Athletic in a recent game."][/caption]
FA Cup competitions in most European countries have been overshadowed in recent years by more high profile premier leagues. But for old-timers like myself there is still something magical about the drama of the Cup and there is always the possibility of the non-League minnows causing a shock. You couldn't describe Shelbourne, who have won the FAI Cup seven times, as a minnow but they are the only first division club left in this year's competition.
On Friday night The Reds, who have been operating out of the first division of the League of Ireland for the past four years, take on South Dublin rivals St. Patrick's Athletic at Tolka Park in the first of this year's FAI Ford Cup semifinals. Shelbourne's last Cup success was in 2000 when they beat Bohemians 1-0 in a replay at Dalymount Park. That was in the glory days of the late Ollie Byrne, a name synonymous with Shelbourne up until to his death in August 2007. Shelbourne were shocked earlier in the competition by neighbours Sheriff United, but the junior club were found to have fielded an illegal player and Shels were reinstated and went on to beat Limerick in the quarterfinal. Meanwhile it's 50 years since The Saints won the FAI Cup and there have been many disappointments for followers of the Inchicore club since they beat Drumcondra 2-1 in the 1961 final with players like Dinny Lowry, Ronnie Whelan and Ginger O'Rourke in the team. Pats have qualified for six finals since then and have lost all six, the most recent in 2006 when they were beaten 4-3 after extra time by Derry City in what was the last soccer game at the old Lansdowne Road. St Pat's slim premier league title hopes were ended last week when they were beaten 2-0 by UCD, so now the Cup is their only hope of silverware and European qualification this season. Shels are clear leaders in the first division and should definitely be promoted this year, but I think the Saints should be too strong and I expect them to qualify for the final.
The second semifinal will be at nearby Dalymount Park on Sunday afternoon when Bohemians take on Cup holders Sligo Rovers. Incidentally both games will be shown live by RTE television so you may be able to pick up the games depending on your location. Sligo, who had been favorites to win the League of Ireland title for the first time since 1977 before last weekend's games, will be fancied to overcome Bohemians at Dalymount Park, the ground where The Bit o' Red won the Cup for the first time in 1983. Soccer has survived in the North West through good times and bad and credit must go to the Sligo supporters who have kept the beautiful game alive in the Yeats County. Paul Cook, Sligo's Liverpool-born manager, has assembled a very strong squad and they have shown in the League that they are not afraid of anybody. Last November Sligo beat old rivals Shamrock Rovers in a penalty shoot in what was the first-ever FAI Cup Final at the Aviva. Bohemians, who have severe financial difficulties, are struggling right now and while it may take a replay I think Sligo should make it to the Aviva against next month.
ROVER MOVE TOP
Meanwhile, in the league, Pats did Dublin rivals Shamrock Rovers a major favor on Saturday night when they beat Sligo Rovers 1-0 at Richmond Park, Inchicore. The following afternoon Rovers headed for the Carlisle Grounds in Bray where they clinched the title last season and thanks to two goals from Karl Sheppard duly beat the Wanderers 2-1 to go a point clear of Sligo with a game in hand. Rovers' game in hand is against Derry City in Tallaght tomorrow (13th) night and after that there are only two leagues games remaining. Rovers are away to UCD on Oct. 24 and home to Galway on Oct. 28, while Sligo play Bohemians away on Oct. 21 and their last game is at home to UCD on Oct. 28. Derry City are still in third place after a 2-0 win over Dundalk at Oriel Park on Saturday, while St Pat's are in fourth place.
ALLEN TO MANAGE LIMERICK HURLERS
The Limerick County Board has turned to a Corkman to manage their senior hurling time for the third time in a row. John Allen follows in the footsteps of Donal O'Grady and Justin McCarthy. McCarthy oversaw a divisive term in Limerick while O'Grady brought stability this year. Now it's up to Allen in 2012 to continue the good work done by O'Grady.
Elsewhere Anthony Daly has confirmed that he is staying with Dublin for another year. Under the former Clare captain The Dubs won the National League title last May and later went on to give Tipperary a good test in the All-Ireland semifinal.
In Galway under 21 football manager Alan Mulholland has been promoted to the senior team where he takes over from Kerry-born Tomás O Flatharta, who only lasted one season. And Jason Ryan is staying with the Wexford footballers for a fifth year. Waterford born Ryan admitted that he would have been interested in the hurling job in his native county, but didn't get an interview.
In Roscommon Fergal O'Donnell has stepped down for personal reasons. He led the Rossies to the Connacht title in 2010.
Micheál McDermott is expected to re-appointed as Clare football manager this week, although there were reports last week that Kerryman Mick O'Dwyer had been nominated for the job by a West Clare club. But O'Dwyer has apparently declined saying he was not interested while there was a man in the job. Another Kerryman Liam Kearns, who has managed Limerick and Laois, had also been mentioned as a possible candidate in Clare.
Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, who kicked 12 points in the 2011 championship, including the winning point against Kerry, is the only Dublin player in the Irish International Rules provisional squad.
Manager Anthony Tohill will confirm his final 23 and tour captain this week. Ireland play Australia in the Etihad Stadium, Melbourne on Oct. 28 and in the Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast on Nov. 4. Six Irish-born players current playing Aussie Rules football have been included: Tommy Walsh (Kerry/St.Kilda), Michael Quinn (Longford/Essendon), Chris McKaigue (Derry/Sydney Swans), Zach Tuohy (Laois/Carlton), Tadhg Kennelly (Kerry/Sydney Swans) and Pearse Hanley (Mayo/Brisbane Lions). It's an inexperienced squad but it does include some top class GAA players like Paddy Kelly and Aidan Walsh (Cork), last year's captain Steven McDonnell from Armagh and Donegal's impressive young full forward Michael Murphy.
WALLACE BLASTS REFS
Independent TD Mick Wallace could be in trouble with the FAI following his criticism of League of Ireland referees. Wallace, the manager and founder of Wexford Youths who play in the League of Ireland first division, accused some League of Ireland referees of being "schoolyard bullies" in a recent match program. Wallace wrote: ''There are a number of officials who should not be allowed to referee football games, their attitude is completely wrong. They seem to behave like the schoolyard bully, more intent on abusing their position of power rather than carrying out their duties in an honest and fair manner.'' The FAI say they are aware of the comments and will be investigating.
QUINN QUITS CHAIRMANSHIP
Former Irish international striker Niall Quinn has stepped down as Chairman of Sunderland FC and will now focus on turning the North of England club into a global force. Quinn, who led the Drumaville consortium that took over Sunderland in 2006, will now spearhead the Black Cats international development with American backer Ellis Short taking over as Chairman.
Former Manchester United and Irish defender Tony Dunne says he is very happy that United bought most of his medals at an auction in England last week. Tony said: ''Once the medals left my house there is only one place they should be and that is the Old Trafford museum. But the Chester auction house's reserve on two jerseys worn by Dunne in the 1968 European Cup Final and 1963 FA Cup final, failed to reach their reserve price and were withdrawn. Dunne said the shirts will now be put for auction again.