FAI Intermediate Cup, Third Round - By Chris McNulty, USL PRO
Eamon McConigley is aware that the rewards are substantial on Sunday when Letterkenny Rovers host Midleton from Cork in the FAI Intermediate Cup at the Aura Leisure Complex (kick-off 12noon).
Rovers were finalists in the intermediate grade’s blue ribband competition in 2016, when they lost to Crumlin United at the Aviva Stadium.
On their way to the final, Rovers defeated Midleton 2-1 at Leckview Park with Paul McVeigh and Darren McElwaine the goalscorers.
Last year, Rovers stumbled at the first hurdle, when they lost to Cockhill Celtic. This time, though, the USL’s big two are both on a voyage into the national stage of the Cup, with Cockhill set to host Swords Celtic on Sunday at the Charlie O’Donnell Sports Grounds (2pm).
“We were rebuilding last year,” McConigley says.
“A lot of the players are back from then and we’ve added a couple of players like Sean (McCarron) and Pajo (Rafferty).
“The first thing you want in the Intermediate is a home draw. We’re at home and hopefully that will give us confidence. We’re really looking forward to the game. We want to make home advantage count on Sunday.”
McCarron and Rafferty were among the Rovers contingent on the Ulster Senior League squad for the FAI Intermediate Inter-League Tournament at the weekend in Galway.
McCarron was carried off in Friday’s 2-1 loss against Leinster at Mervue with an ankle injury and McConigley this week couldn’t hide his frustration. His ire was directed towards the FAI’s domestic committee for the decision to stage the Inter-League Tournament a week out from the Intermediate Cup.
McConigley said: “I’m totally disappointed that they’d turn around and put on a tournament like the Inter-Pros the week before the Intermediate Cup.
“A lot of teams will have had players away, I’m not the only one I know, but it’s not ideal.
“We got an injury out of it. You’re sitting the whole weekend waiting to see if players are okay and that’s not how you’d want to be going into a big Cup match.
“Hopefully Sean will be okay. I’m keeping the fingers crossed.”
McCarron has been in fine form this season for the Cathedral Town side and McConigley knows the Derry native has been a bluechip recruit.
He said: “Sean is a League of Ireland player. That’s where he should be playing. He’s a class player.
“That can work against you in a way too. Teams are putting in the extra bit of effort now because they know that Sean McCarron is with us.
“He’s a big, big player for us.”
Rafferty, Lee Toland, Rory Kelly, Conor Tourish and Chris Flanagan also lined out for the USL last weekend in the Inter-League Tournament when Rovers had a big representation on the squad.
McConigley is anticipating a tough battle against a Midleton team that is fourth in the Munster Senior League having won two, lost two and drawn two of their games so far.
McConigley said; “They’re a good side. They’ve scored five and conceded five. That kind of information shows they don’t score many, but at the same time they don’t let too many in either. They’ll be a typical Munster side, I’m sure.”
Both USL sides will be pleased to be handed home advantage for this weekend.
Cockhill will be hopeful of navigating past Swords, who are fourth in Senior 1 (the second tier) of the Leinster Senior League.
As McConigley alluded to, this is a big round in more ways that one.
The Rovers boss said: “It has a big incentive. Getting into the FAI Cup would be a big boost and another big stage to look forward to. It’s early days in the Intermediate, but this game means an awful lot. If we get a result, it could kick us on.”
FAI Intermediate Cup, Third Round
Sunday, November 26
12noon Letterkenny Rovers v Midleton
2pm Cockhill Celtic v Swords Celtic