Milford United are the last team from the Donegal League in the FAI Junior Cup and they face arguably the best side in Connacht in the form of Athenry FC in a bid to reach the last 32 on Sunday (kick-off 1.30pm).
Twelve months ago, at the same stage in the competition, Milford were left licking their wounds when a disputed extra-time goal gave New Ross Celtic a 4-3 win in Wexford. That was as close as Milford have come to the last 16 so that goes some way to portraying the significance of Sunday’s fixture against the talented Galway oufit, who have won the Connacht Cup four times in the last five seasons. “Everybody is talking about this game,” manager Peter Doherty said this week. “We always get a bit of an extra following when we’re playing in the Junior Cup and the fact the game is at home, we’re expecting a big crowd down to roar on the boys.
“We’ve been fortunate enough with the draw this year and although we’ve had to play our last few games in Rathmullan, the game this weekend will definitely go ahead in Milford,”
Milford enjoyed a routine 3-0 win over Castlera Celtic from Roscommon in the last round at their temporary abode of Flagpole Park in Rathmullan two weeks before Christmas.
Goals from David Curley, Ciaran McGinley and Joey Cullen in the final quarter of an hour were enough for the Moyle View Park residents to progress to round six and give the scoreboard a more comfortable look.
In the previous round they came away from the potentially sticky tie against Quigley’s Point Swifts from the Inishowen League in Rathmullan. Chris Bradley’s opener was cancelled out in the last minute. However, Karl Duggan and Bradley scored in extra-time to confirm a 3-2 win. Gweedore Celtic’s 1-0 extra-time loss against Carrick United last Sunday in the fifth round meant the Donegal League representation was quartered from rounds five to six, with Lagan Harps and Glenea United going out against Trinity Corinthians and Clonmel Celtic respectively.
Milford Goalkeeper Ian Strain has returned to training following a dislocated shoulder, while recent signings from Fanad United, PJ Hagan and Eoin Ferry, won’t be available this weekend because they weren’t signed in time. Doherty himself will be back in the fray following a nine-week lay-off because of a hamstring complaint.
Athenry are currently nine points off the pace in the Western Hygiene Supplies Galway and District Premier Division, with Mervue United leading the way.
Last term it was much closer as a last day finale saw Mervue get the draw against Athenry they need to secure the championship. A measurement of Athenry’s success, though, is the fact they won the title in 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2009/10, as well as reaching the final of the FAI Junior Cup in 2006, when they lost to Waterford Crystal.
Their star man is Seamie Crowe, who was lined out for Wolverhampton Wanderers and was named FAI Junior Player of the Year in 2008 and FAI Intermediate Player of the Year two years later. Athenry progressed to the last 32 of the FAI Junior cup with a hard fought victory over Fairview last month.
The match finished 1-1 after extra time with Gary Forde scoring and Athenry won 5-4 on penalties with Cathal Fahy, Crowe, Benny Lawless, Mark Moran, and Stephen Rabbitte all scoring from the spot with goalkeeper Mark Cobey making an excellent save.
“We’re going into the game as massive underdogs,” Doherty continued. “They have won the Connacht Cup four times in the last five years.
“They’re obviously a very fancied team but it will be a different story for them coming up here. Like any team, we believe we can take on anybody at home. We have a good mentality and truly believe we can win on Sunday. It will be a good marker to see how much we’ve progressed in recent years.”
Domestically, Milford United are going well, sitting on 22 points from their 10 outings this season in second place and trailing last year’s Brian McCormick Sports Premier League and Cup winners Gweedore Celtic by four points.
However, with Milford involved in the national cup scene, Hughie Rua Gallagher’s team have the chance to add to their lead when they travel to Parkview to take on Castlefin Celtic on Sunday.
Having not lost in the league for 53 weeks, Gweedore have form but in their last meeting with Castlefin, which was in the FAI Junior Cup in November, they had to come from 2-1 down before eventually winning 4-2. Gweedore, though, can welcome last year’s captain Eamon Cannon back to the fray after he re-signed from Fanad United.
Elsewhere in the Premier Division, Glenea United can move ahead of Milford into second place when they make the trip to a Lagan Harps side low on confidence after their 5-1 home hammering at the hands of Eany Celtic last Sunday. Lifford Celtic will try and get off the bottom when they take on neighbours Drumoghill FC at the Moss.
In the Milford Inn Division One, Rathmullan Celtic have the look of a side on the way to winning their second successive title and on Sunday they will be hopeful of taking another step in the right direction as Donegal Town FC come to the seaside.
St Catherine’s are in second place and they have a potentially tricky task at Gweedore United. The other fixtures of the day see Arranmore United welcome Dunlewey Celtic, Convoy Arsenal entertain Cappry Rovers and Raphoe Town play host to Curragh Athletic.
The CT Ball Division Two fixtures, Bonagee United welcome Cranford United, Glenree United are home to Drumbar United, Keadue Rovers face Copany Rovers, Kerrykeel 71 entertain Ballybofey United and Letterbarrow Celtic meet Whitestrand United.
Downtown Cup Group A
Glencar Celtic v Deele Harps
Ramelton v Glenea United Res
Downtown Cup Group B
Castlefin Celtic v Milford United
Fintown Harps v Dunfanaghy
Downtown Cup Group C
Kilmacrennan v Donegal Town
Mulroy Celtic v Tullyvinney
Downtown Cup Group D
Cranford v Gweedore Celtic Res
Gweedore United v Downtown
FAI Junior Cup, 1.30pm
Milford United v Athenry
Brian McCormick Sports
Premier Division, 2pm
Castlefin v Gweedore Celtic
Drumoghill v Lifford Celtic
Lagan Harps v Glenea United
Milford Inn Division One, 2pm
Arranmore v Dunlewey (1pm)
Convoy Arsenal v Cappry Rovers
Gweedore Utd v St Catherine’s
Raphoe Town v Curragh Athletic
Rathmullan v Donegal Town
CT Ball Division Two, 2pm
Bonagee United v Cranford
Glenree United v Drumbar
Keadue Rovers v Copany Rovers
Kerrykeel v Ballybofey United
Letterbarrow v Whitestrand