The journey to the Aviva Stadium for November’s FAI Cup final begins this weekend with 16 FAI Cup first-round ties taking place across the country. The beauty of the FAI Cup is that it offers teams from outside of the League of Ireland a chance to mix it with the countries elite sides, although “non-league” teams have really struggled in the competition in recent years as the gap between the professional and amateur ranks continues to widen. However, with three all “non league” ties scheduled in the first round, there will be non-LOI representation in round two.
The FAI Cup was won by Derry City last season and with the Candystripes at home to First Division side Athlone in round one, Ruaidhrí Higgins men will already be thinking of another deep run in the knockout competition this year.
Among the standout first-round ties is a repeat of the 2020 final between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers while Dublin rivals Bohemians and Shelbourne will meet at Dalymount Park. There is also another all-Premier Division tie as Drogheda United host Sligo Rovers.
Drogheda United v Sligo Rovers, Fri, 7.45, LOI TV.
Just one league place and one point separate these two sides in the Premier Division table with both Drogheda United and Sligo Rovers picking up important wins in their preceding league matches.
After a string of fine performances this season, Drogheda United are finally starting to see some sort of reward with a five-point gap being opened up between themselves and Cork City who occupy the dreaded relegation play-off position.
Sligo Rovers beat Cork City 3-0 on Friday but the Bit O’Red have been more down than up this season. Certainly, the mood around Drogheda United is a lot more positive than that of Sligo Rovers who are massively underperforming and with Drogheda unbeaten in their two games against Sligo this term (home win, away draw) they’ll massively fancy their chances in front of a passionate home crowd.
Best bet: Drogheda United (6/4)
Bohemians v Shelbourne, Fri, 7.45, LOI TV
These two near neighbors will be sick of the sight of each other as Bohs and Shels prepare for their FIFTH H2H of the season. Bohemians came out on top in a thrilling Leinster Senior Cup tie at Tolka Park recently but both teams fielded lineups made up mostly by fringe and young players. The fact that the three league meetings between the sides have produced just three goals is a better indication of what we can expect in this cup tie, a very tightly fought-affair.
Just last Friday, the two Dublin rivals played out a 1-1 draw in Tolka with Shels having the better of the first half while Bohs certainly ended the game the stronger. Both goalkeepers appeared to struggle on the night with the form of Gypsies netminder James Talbot becoming a real concern, especially with his main competition Luke Dennison currently on the injury table.
Shelbourne’s inability to kill off teams was again shown up on Friday as they failed to build on Bohs fragility in the first half. Having reached the FAI Cup final last season, Shelbourne knows what it takes to manage a tie like this. This could very well go all the way to penalties.
Best bet: Draw (23/10)
UCD v Cobh Ramblers, Fri, 7.45, LOI TV
An intriguing contest as a team who are destined for relegation to the First Division next season hosts a team who are among the contenders to replace UCD in the top-flight next year. Having lost 19 of their 24 Premier Division matches, UCD could be vulnerable against a Cobh Ramblers side who are flying in the First Division with the Rams currently the “best of the rest” behind the division’s two big guns Galway and Waterford.
Ramblers five match unbeaten run (4w, 1d) came to an end after they came out on the wrong side of a 7-goal thriller away to Finn Harps on Friday and the manner of the goals Shane Keegan’s men conceded in that contest is concerning as they step up to take on a Premier Division side, albeit a struggling one.
Cobh had recorded three clean sheets in the previous five games before Friday and they’ll need to get back to that sort of defensive structure if they want to cause a cup upset here.
Up top, Wilson Waweru has been a revelation for the Rams this season while the addition of Mikie Rowe from Galway gives Shane Keegan even more beef in the attack. Shane Keegan has done a marvelous job this season and he has the tools to add further misery to the Students dour season.
Best bet: Cobh Ramblers (11/4)
Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers, Sun, 5.00, LOI TV
Shamrock Rovers crashed out of the Champions League in a fairly tame manner mid-week while at the time of writing, Dundalk will be expected to get past Gibraltar’s Bruno Magpies in the Conference League on Thursday with the score 0-0 from the first leg with the Lilywhites having home advantage in the return fixture.
Should Dundalk progress as expected, they’ll be coming into this cup tie with all the momentum while the memories from their recent league win at home to Rovers is still extremely fresh.
The Hoops have been off the boil for weeks now with Stephen Bradley’s team now winless in their last four games across all competitions with the Champions scoring just one goal in that time and that goal came from the penalty spot. Injuries to flying full-backs Neil Farrugia and Trevor Clarke appear to have clipped Rovers wings while Jack Byrne and Graham Burke have also struggled for consistency this season.
While Rovers remain favourites to complete a historic fourth consecutive league title success, Stephen Bradley has been unable to complete the league and cup double in that time and with Rovers possibly coming into this difficult cup tie with something of a cloud hanging of them after Europe, I have to see Dundalk as the value bet here (as long as they don’t dirty their bib on Thursday).
Best bet: Dundalk (5/2)
Longford Town v St.Patrick’s Athletic
A fixture that will bring memories of Longford Town FC’s first-ever major trophy success flooding back with this being a repeat of the 2003 FAI Cup final. It’s such memories that have kept Town fans going at times this season with the Midlanders struggling towards the foot of the First Division.
While there have been some notable improvements in recent weeks after Town boss Stephen Henderson made some shrewd mid-season additions, Longford are likely to be totally outclassed by a top Premier Division side in St.Pat’s.
The Saints are likely to rotate off the back of Thursday’s all-important Conference League second-leg tie with F91 from Luxembourg but this is a Pat’s team very much in the title race at the moment and you don’t get involved in that kind of race unless you have a squad that is packed with quality players, something Pat’s certainly do boast.
If you look at Pat’s most recent domestic game, a 1-1 draw with Cork City, Jon Daly was able to introduce the likes of Adam Murphy, Eoin Doyle, Tommy Lonergan, and Thijs Timmermans from the bench while hot young talent such as Mason Melia will most likely get a run out at Bishopsgate on Sunday.
Longford Town manager Stephen Henderson has already outlined that this cup tie is not a priority but St.Pat’s will be eyeing this game as a stepping stone to greater things.
Best bet: St.Patrick’s Athletic -2 (11/8)
OUTRIGHT SELECTION: Derry City (7/2) – Last year’s winners have an ideal first-round tie at home to a First Division side and with some big names set to face off this weekend it could open up nicely for a Candystripes side with great cup pedigree. Outright prices can be viewed, here.