FAI Junior Cup fans and supporters – be sure to stay tuned to IRISH TV on Friday November 4 next when third round highlights will be aired on the channel at 8.30pm.
Will Downing reports for IRISH TV:
A new season of FAI Junior Cup football is around the corner, with enhanced coverage from the early rounds planned this season on IRISH TV to take in more action from the grassroots of Irish soccer.
The 2016 edition saw 564 clubs from all corners of the nation whittled down to the final two across nine months, and though two of the most successful sides of recent years ended up doing battle down Lansdowne Road in the Aviva Stadium decider, the competition continues to produce unique stories.
With holders Liffey Wanderers jousting in the Intermediate Cup, River Valley Rangers from Swords weren’t necessarily looking to emulate Wanderers’ great achievements from 2015 in going all the way for the first time – just trying to rewrite their own history having reached the last 16 for the first time ever last season.
Having dispatched former League of Ireland side NewcastleWest in the fifth round, a 3-1 sixth round win over Clones Town sent the Fingal side into the last 16 once more, and a difficult tie against perennial Limerick challengers Carew Park.
Not only did RVR put in a good challenge against this strong outfit, they beat them 3-1 thanks to two goals from Mark O’Brien and one from Ben Turley.
Athlone club St Peter’s would turn River Valley over in the quarter-finals, but for the North Dublin club, just reaching the quarter-finals was unprecedented glory in its own right.
Former Athlone Town striker Noel McGee would score the only goal at the AUL Complex, as the 2009 runners-up made their way through to a memorable semi-final.
But it wouldn’t be for the quality of play that their first meeting with Pike Rovers would be remembered.
Instead, a mid-April blizzard caused proceedings to be halted by referee Conor Byrne early in the second-half in Tullamore.
When the sides met again 11 days later, a wonderful John Connery strike set the seal on a 2-0 win for Pike, and they would be on their way to their first FAI Junior Cup Final since they won it last in 2011.
Pike had dispatched north-western survivors Glengad United in the last eight, the club from Inishowen previously earning famous victories over Castlebar Celtic and Cherry Orchard.
But their long drive in an FAI-supplied coach from Donegal for their first-ever Junior Cup quarter-final saw them concede four.
In Clare, Newmarket Celtic entertained a bumper four-figure crowd at McDonagh Park for their first quarter-final since 1982, but fell 1-0 in their Shannonside derby to Janesboro FC of Limerick through a Shane Clarke spot-kick.
Winners in 2012 and 2013, but beaten by Liffey Wanderers in last season’s Aviva Stadium showpiece, Sheriff YC had much to prove in the 2016 edition.
A huge crowd swelled into Greendale to watch their North Dublin derby in the quarter-finals against Kilbarrack United, who – having fallen behind to Sean Murphy’s opener early on – would equalise magnificently through Mark Townley’s audacious lob from outside the area.
Darren O’Brien’s well-taken strike made it 2-1 to Sheriff after only 32 minutes, but that would prove to be the winner in this rematch of the finals from 2012 and 2013.
Not only would Sheriff arrest the progress of their cross-town rivals, but they would also dominate in Janesboro’s first semi-final since 2001, and only their second semi-final ever.
4-1 would be the margin in favour of the Dublin side as they romped to a fourth final in five years for a showdown against Pike Rovers – the first meeting of these two in the Junior Cup Final, despite their major combined success of recent years.
Again, the third-tier decider would attract a crowd of over 3000 for its final, with just the one goal deciding it in Sheriff’s favour: Sean Murphy’s cross meeting Mark Higgins’ head for what was described by runners-up Pike afterwards as “a Premier League-quality goal”.
The fourth year that the final has been held at the Aviva Stadium marks the third season of TV coverage for the competition on IRISH TV, and the enthusiasm shown by the organisers, sponsors and clubs has undeniably lifted the profile of the Junior Cup.
Even if the decider itself was not a thrill-a-minute spectacle, our special guests for the Cup Final – former Ireland manager Brian Kerr plus Match of the Day regular and ex-Ireland midfielder Kevin Kilbane – were as impressed by the technical quality of the play at the highest level of junior soccer – as our regular commentary team of Bernard O’Toole and League of Ireland winner Alan Cawley have been the past three seasons.
Sheriff’s third title in five years has them at the summit of recent junior football, though Fairview Rangers’ six Junior Cup crowns in eight years across the late nineties and early noughties will definitely take some beating.
Does anyone have the mettle to earn their spurs against Sheriff this season?
FAI JUNIOR CUP – third round highlights – Friday November 4 at 8.30pm