It’s been a quite incredible cup sojourn, but after 12 big games on the national stage Letterkenny Rovers’ journey finally came to an end on Tuesday night against Athlone Town.
Letterkenny Rovers . . . . 0
Athlone Town . . . . . . . . . . 1
(after extra time)
This FAI Senior Cup 2nd round replay was Rovers’ 12th national cup game this season.
Yet after the lows of the FAI Intermediate Cup final defeat at the Aviva Stadium, they could at least hold their heads high after giving their senior opponents an almighty scare in a cracking cup tie at Leckview Park.
Of all their cup games this season, this was probably Letterkenny’s best performance. They’d fully deserved a second chance after picking up an impressive draw in Athlone on Saturday night. And they came within the width of a crossbar from causing a major cup shock.
Right at the end of the 90 minutes, Rovers striker Steve Okakpu Emeka saw his flashing header rattle the woodwork from Paul McVeigh’s corner.
But with just three minutes of extra time remaining, and with penalties looming large, Athlone pounced for a dramatic late winner when Alan O’Sullivan stole in to score from close range.
It was enough to give the SSE Airtricity First Division side the victory and while it was cruel on Rovers, their manager, Eamonn McConigley, had only praise for his players afterwards.
“Unfortunately it was a bad goal we gave away but the lads were so tired,” he said.
“There was extra time and the game on Saturday meant very little recovery period.
“I can’t fault them in any shape or form, but what a fantastic cup game.”
The visitors had the game’s first chances with Jack Tuite and O’Sullivan having shots saved by Rory Kelly early on. However, Rovers, with Mark Forker excellent at centre midfield, began to show their worth and Christy Connaghan was denied the opener by keeper Ryan Coulter after a wonderful interchange with Okakpu Emeka.
Coulter denied Rovers again soon after when Paul Yank Boyle, up from the back for a free kick, saw his close range shot strike the legs of the keeper.
The second half proved a little more cagey although for a long period, Athlone looked the more likely to break the deadlock. Rovers, however, somehow found another gear and as the half wore on, they again carried a major threat coming forward.
In the dying minutes, Okakpu Emeka twice went close to a winner. Firstly, he saw a close range shot blocked on the line and then from McVeigh’s corner, he rose majestically at the front post, but his header crashed back of the bar.
In a frantic finish, Athlone could also have stolen a late winner but Kelly came to his team’s rescue with a brilliant double save after substitute, Emeka Onwubiko raced clear.
In extra time, Rovers went closest again - Kevin McGrath ghosting in from the right and forcing Coulter into a diving save to his right.
But on 117 minutes, the visitors pounced for the winner when O'Sullivan scored.
It was the first goal in almost 210 minutes of cup action. And while there could only be one winner, Rovers could be proud of their efforts at the end of a memorable cup replay.
Letterkenny Rovers: Rory Kelly, David Shovlin, Terence Shiels (Kevin O’Donnell 104), Paul Boyle, Tristan Ferris (Jonathan Minnock 66), Christy Connaghan, Paul McVeigh, Mark Forker, Darren McElwaine, Kevin McGrath, Steve Okakpo Emeka (Brian McVeigh 93).
Athlone Town: Ryan Coulter, Simon Dixon, Ian Fletcher, Kevin Farragher, Jack Tuite, Val Feeney, Marco Chindea, David Cassidy, Alan O’Sullivan, Daniel Purdy, Adam Kelly (Emeka Onwubiko 67).
Referee: Michael Connolly.