Ten-man Finn Harps’ dreams of an FAI Cup semi-final place came to a bitter end when they went down to Drogheda United in Monday’s quarter-final replay.
Drogheda United 2
Finn Harps 0
Peter Hutton’s side performed admirably at Hunky Dorys Park but were undone by goals from Declan O’Brien and David Cassidy, while Damien McNulty saw red for a second yellow.
The first an untidy goal when O’Brien was on hand to tuck home on 50 minutes after Shane Grimes had crossed from the right. The ball initially alluded to Philip Hand, who was free at the back post, but although his wild slice skimmed right into the crowded area without rhyme nor reason, it fell right into O’Brien’s path and he steadied to score.
Then, with Harps pressing just at the outset of six minutes of second half stoppage time, the hosts cleared a free from substitute Gary Merritt and Ciaran Gallagher was faced with both Ryan Brennan and David Cassidy bearing down on him. Brennan unselfishly squared to Cassidy, who had a simple task of slotting into the empty net.
Game over. But it was in the melting pot till then. There was an element of spice in the encounter and just like after Friday night’s 1-1 draw at Finn Park, Harps and their followers would’ve felt a little hard done by.
On 70 minutes Michael Funston was fouled by Cassidy. As everyone piled in to give their tupence worth, McNulty shoved Cassidy and was seen by the nearside referee’s assistant, Ciaran Delaney, and the Harps right-back was given a second yellow card and subsequent red. Funston and Cassidy were also booked by Derek Tomney for the initial incident.
Harps opened the match with Pat McCann floating off lone striker Kevin McHugh in a 4-5-1 formation and were well drilled. They sat back with numbers to establish a base and were only troubled once in the opening quarter, when Cassidy found a little channel of opportunism but his chip drifted harmlessly over the crossbar and into the night air.
Both sides created good headed goalscoring opportunities as the half drew to a close. O’Brien glanced wide at the near post following a cross by Brennan. But the closest either side came to a goal in the opening period was when Keith Cowan powered a header from Funston’s corner, only for Michael Slingermann palmed over the crossbar.
Despite that miss, Hutton would’ve been content at half-time with the shape and composure shown by his team against their Premier League opponents.
Friday’s 1-1 bruising draw made the walls talk inside Finn Park as the hosts came within five minutes of a place in the last four of the competition for the first time in 14 years. Mick Daly, though, cancelled out McHugh’s superb opener to force the replay in the Boyne.
The fallout from that match – and there was plenty of it – was a suspension for Ciaran Coll for his sending off following a reasonably innocuous incident that, just like in the replay in the McNulty incident, saw Cassidy grounded. Mark Forker came into the team.
Drogheda manager Mick Cooke, who will not have his contract renewed at the end of the season, had to plan without the banned Daly and Gavin Brennan. The Louth outfit have the EA Sports Cup final to look forward to on Saturday against Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.
After O’Brien’s goal, those in maroon began to raise their voice and for a brief spell Harps looked susceptible. O’Brien broke down the right and his pullback was well collected by Gallagher. Harps, though, regained their composure to quell the storm. Thomas McMonagle drew an unconvincing save from Slingermann on 66 minutes from a direct free-kick.
Hynes, following McNulty’s dismissal, had a good opportunity to put the game to bed but was a little too nonchalant and his chip in a one-on-one situation was easily gathered by Gallagher, who two minutes later galloped from his line to deny O’Brien.
McMonagle gave Harps flirtatious notions of extra-time with a fizzling drive from 25 yards with just two minutes left just that flew inches wide and a couple of corners and free-kicks saw them flood the box.
But there was to be another goal, only it was Cassidy who provided it. Drogheda can look forward to a home semi-final against neighbours Dundalk, while Harps can only wonder what might have been.
Drogheda United: Michael Slingermann; Shane Grimes, Alan McNally, Derek Predergast, Philip Hand; Alan Byrne (Eric Foley 73); David Cassidy, Paul O’Conor, Ryan Brennan, Peter Hynes (Graham Rusk 84); Declan O’Brien.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Josh Mailey, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle; Mark Forker (Paul McVeigh 72), Shaun McGowan, Michael Funston (Gary Merritt 84); Thomas Bonnar (Jordan Duffy 90); Pat McCann; Kevin McHugh.
Referee: Derek Tomney.