Ryan McConnell and Ryan Gildea of Letterkenny Rovers in action in their quarter-final win over Home Farm. Photo: Stephen Doherty.
Two years on from their first ever appearance in an FAI Intermediate Cup final, Letterkenny Rovers are just one game away from a dream return to the Aviva Stadium.
They meet Dublin’s Firhouse Clover in an eagerly awaited cup semi-final at Leckview Park on Sunday afternoon at 1pm.
And having experienced the excitement of playing in the Aviva Stadium back in 2016, Rovers, with home advantage, have a wonderful chance of reaching another FAI Intermediate Cup final.
To do so, however, they must overcome the challenge of Firhouse who, for many, are the favourites to win this year’s title. Formed in 2007, the Dublin side are an amalgamation of Firhouse United and Clover Athletic, and play in the top tier of the Leinster Senior League Based in Tallaght, they beat Crumlin United in their quarter-final - Crumlin having beaten Rovers 5-0 in the final two years ago.
Letterkenny still have a number of survivors from that one-sided final two years ago.
But there are new players added since then too, among them former Finn Harps and Ballinamallard defender, Ryan McConnell.
The central defender, still only 22, believes he has plenty more to offer in the game and just because he’s back playing with his hometown club, he feels he is more than capable of playing at a higher level.
“For now, it’s just good to be back playing regularly,” he said.
“I was with Ballinamallard and I enjoyed my time there. But to be honest, I wasn’t included in a few match-day squads and I wasn’t really getting a game. I just decided to move on.”
He had joined Ballinamallard in the Irish League after a spell with Finn Harps.
The Ballybofey club had moved quickly for McConnell after injury brought an end to a promising career at Manchester United. The Premiership giants signed the Letterkenny man as a 16-year-old from Rovers and during his time at Old Trafford, he was a big part of the club’s academy set-up and even captained United at U-21 level.
FA Youth Cup
He recalls playing in the FA Youth Cup with a certain Marcus Rashford and among the Premiership grounds he got to play in, he mentions Turf Moore and Leicester’s King Power Stadium as his favourites, along with Old Trafford of course.
Now McConnell finds himself one game away from a chance to play at the Aviva Stadium.
“I know we’ve been there before, but I’ve never played there,” he said.
“It would be great to get to another final, but in fairness to our players, there hasn’t been any talk about the Aviva or the final.
“Our job is to concentrate on the semi-final. We’ve had a few big games in the Intermediate Cup and this is another big one on Sunday. We know we’ve a job to do and we’ve got the players who are good enough to get through this game.”
Rovers have doubts over Kevin McGrath (flu) and Paul McVeigh (injured) while striker Darren McElwaine, who scored both goals in the 2-0 quarter-final win over Home Farm, is a doubt because of an achilles problem.
EA Sports League Cup
Cockhill Celtic bowed out of the EA Sports League Cup on Monday when they lost 1-0 in their first round meeting with Galway Utd.
Gerry Gill's unfortunate own goal just after half time won it for Galway. Stephen Kenny’s dangerous delivery from a free kick on the left was met by the head of Gill, but the attempted clearance looped goalward and over the head of keeper Lee McCarron.