Letterkenny Rovers had nine toes in the fourth round of the FAI Intermediate Cup only to be denied by a late St Francis equaliser.
Letterkenny Rovers 1
St Francis 1
Trevor Scanlon’s team led 1-0 with six minutes to play at Leckview Park yesterday only for Karl Delaney to strike and force a replay in Baldonnell.
On a tricky afternoon for football with murky skies and a soft pitch, Rovers had broken the deadlock thanks to Darren McElwaine, who certainly had a busy afternoon at the office.
McElwaine saw a first half penalty saved by Paul Dowling before firing the hosts in front just after the hour.
However, McElwaine missed a one-on-one having saw his shot hit the post and was then sent off for a second yellow card for pushing the St Francis goalkeeper as words were exchanged.
Both teams created little early on but Rovers’ defence was momentarily caught too square on 20 minutes when a punt from Dowling eluded to Shane Murphy, who could only lob over the advancing Jason Quinn.
A needless handball in the area by Keith Lyons, who was even pressurised at the time from a Eloka Asokuh throw-in, gave referee Tommy McAree with little option but to point to the spot.
Up stepped McElwaine - the Ulster Senior League’s top scorer - but although his kick was well enough struck, Dowling went to his right to push it away.
Rovers, though, had continued to grow into the match more and more and Anthony Doherty’s cross before Kieran McGrath’s header drew another decent stop from Dowling.
St Francis came within a whisker of opening the scoring on 32 minutes when a Gavin Doyle free was headed downward by Gerard O’Gorman but Quinn smothered well.
After a scoreless first half, Rovers produced got into the lead following a finely worked team goal. Anthony Doherty broke from the shackles of right back and squared to Glen Gallagher on the edge of the penalty area.
Gallagher fed McGrath, who unpicked the lock and when McElwaine was fed on the inside left channel he tucked past Dowling.
On such an uncompromising afternoon for football, the first goal was massive.
Rovers, with John Doherty and Jonathan Minnock impressing at the back whether in the air or on the ground, sat in and played on the break.
A wonderful diagonal ball from McGrath set McElwaine away and, showing composure, he drew Dowling before trying to place a delicate shot in at the back post.
It looked perfectly judged but, as it was almost travelling in slow-motion, the ball struck the base of the post.
Dowling and McElwaine seized on whatever rebound might developed but with the chance gone the Rovers frontman pushed the visiting goalkeeper and was sent off. Eight minutes remained.
With the departure of the former Convoy Arsenal striker, it meant Rovers had little option but to try and contain the team who had reached the final of the FAI Cup against Bray Wanderers in 1990 in front of 33,000 people at Lansdowne Road.
St Francis knew they had to go for broke and piled men forward.
Asokuh’s defensive header in a crowded penalty area fell right into the path of Doyle but his stinging shot was superbly stopped by Quinn.
Moments like that made the home support gathered under the drizzle in the stand feel as though it might’ve been their day.
With a trip to either Belvedere or Home Farm in the last 16, not to mention a spot in the first round of next year’s FAI Cup, Rovers were within touching distance.
However, from an 84th minute attack, St Francis produced an excellent equaliser.
David Long produced a devilish cross from the left and substitute Karl Delaney slid in at the back post to produce a splendid volley to equalise.
Barring the roars of jubilant celebrations from the Dubliners, you could hear a pin drop at Leckview Park.
Rovers trundled off probably feeling it was more like a loss than a draw but they’re still in with a shout with the teams due to meet again.
Letterkenny Rovers: Jason Quinn; Anthony Doherty, John Doherty, Jonathan Minnock, Eloka Asokuh; Kevin McGrath, Oisin Grant, Glen Gallagher, Jamie Doherty; Steve Opaku, Darren McElwaine.
St Francis: Paul Dowling; Karl Connaghan, Craig Gardner, Dean Brennan, David Long; Jordan Gardner (Aidy Magure 70), Keith Lyons (Karl Delaney 78), Gerard O’Gorman, Anthony Shortt, Shane Murphy (Karl Kelly 70); Gavin Doyle.
Referee: Tommy McAree.