Provided by FAI Junior Cup sponsor, Aviva
Killarney Celtic (Kerry) v Sheriff YC (Dublin) – Saturday 8th April, 5:00pm, Kilbrean, Mastergeeha, Killarney
Boyle Celtic (Roscommon) v Evergreen FC (Kilkenny) – Sunday 9th April, 3:00pm, The Showgrounds, Sligo
While three sides in this season’s Aviva sponsored FAI Junior Cup are on the verge of making history for the first time, the fourth side, Sheriff YC, are in the middle of writing it. The Dublin Junior soccer king pins are on the verge of their 5th Final in 6 years, winning 3 of the 4 finals they have appeared in to-date.
The club was in turmoil last Summer as it was announced the most successful management duo in the club’s history, Alan Reilly and Chris Giles, would be stepping down from their roles. After a couple of weeks of negotiations, Reilly and Giles were back at the helm and Sheriff picked up where they left off in May when they lifted the FAI Junior Cup at the Aviva Stadium after a 1-0 win over Limerick’s Pike Rovers.
This season Sheriff have done it the hard way, the way they’ve always done it, with the old reliables to the fore. Captain Paul Murphy commands the back line with Darren Dunne creating in midfield and the never aging John Rock still leading the line. Round 4 saw Sheriff paired with Dublin rivals Collinstown and in a ding-dong battle Sheriff snatched it 4-3.
Next up was Limerick’s Carew Park and another tight game saw Sheriff sneak it 2-1 followed by a 5-2 disposal of Usher Celtic. Their best performance of the campaign was against Villa FC from Waterford. Sheriff were reduced to 9 men by the 35th minute but held it at 0-0 to 110 minutes, bringing the game penalties before keeper Lee Murphy saved one and scored one to send them into the Quarter Finals.
John Rock was the hero in Tipperary as they defeated an excellent young Peake Villa side 3-2. However in Killarney on Saturday they will face an atmosphere they will not have faced to-date.
Killarney Celtic are somewhat of a shock in this year’s FAI Junior Cup having not made the last 8 in any of the previous 5 seasons but their run to the semi final has made everyone take note. Over 2,000 fanatical Killarney fans watched them dispose of last year’s semi finalists and second favourites Janesboro 2-1 in the Quarter Final and it’s expected a similar crowd will await Sheriff on Saturday evening.
Killarney went to last year’s Quarter Finalists Newmarket Celtic and won 3-2, following that up with a 2-1 win away to 2014 finalists Ballynanty Rovers. Brian Spillane and Eoghan Donnellan have this side purring. Wayne Sparling has been in imperious form, scoring goals for fun this season from midfield, while the return of former Kerry inter-county player Padraig O’Connor from San Diego to anchor the midfield was a big part of their famous Janesboro win.
The Kerry side have the best goals record so far in the competition, scoring 24 on the way to the last four and conceding just five. If they can continue this form then Kerry fans may have to make a trip to Dublin in May as opposed to September this year.
The second semi final will take place at the home of Sligo Rovers on Sunday where Sligo / Leitrim side Boyle Celtic will host Kilkenny’s Evergreen FC. Neither side have been synonymous with the latter stages of the FAI Junior Cup in recent years, but they’ve rightly earned their places in the final four.
Boyle Celtic’s run to the Quarter Finals wouldn’t have stood out to any Junior football enthusiasts. Even their last 16 win over VEC was somewhat expected. However not many would have given them a chance on the 500km round trip to Carrick-On-Suir to face former winners Carrick United in the Quarter Final. However Boyle took the game to Carrick with two goals from Mick Corrigan. A late equaliser for Carrick brought the game to penalties where Kyle Suffin was the hero saving in sudden death. This result made Irish junior soccer sit up and take notice.
This Boyle side have been building for several years. They have dominated the Sligo / Leitrim league in recent seasons and it’s a young side sprinkled with the experience of the likes of club captain Lochlainn Conboy and former Roscommon inter-county footballer Sean Purcell. In Corrigan they have goals and in Suffin they have an excellent shot stopper who has been the match winner in two penalty shootouts so far in the Cup.
Boyle, who brought 400 to Carrick, will expect a big crowd at The Showgrounds on Sunday and Evergreen FC will provide a stern test for Darren Hurd’s troops. However the Evergreen do have an excellent Junior soccer pedigree. Winners of Kilkenny’s Premier Division 24 times, this is their second time in the last four of the Junior Cup.
For player manager Packie Holden he knows how precious this Cup run is. He was part of the Evergreen side in 1999 that were defeated in the semi finals by Ballymun United and after 18 years Evergreen have finally made it back to this stage. Previous to that Evergreen lost to Beggsboro in the Final at Tolka Park in 1984. The Kilkenny side have yet to taste success in the FAI Junior Cup.
Holden’s side will be brimming with confidence after toppling an in form Kilmallock United from Limerick in the Quarter Finals. Their trip to Sligo will see them step away from their astro surface in Kilkenny to a more expansive pitch at The Showgrounds.
There is one player within Holden’s squad that has a positive experience of playing at Sunday’s venue. Quarter Final match winner Mikey Drennan last visited the Showgrounds in 2015. His goal saw Shamrock Rovers beat Sligo Rovers 2-1, one of many he scored for the Tallaght side that year.
Drennan took a step back from the professional game with Shamrock Rovers in 2016 but is now back enjoying his football, scoring goals and is one step away from playing at the Aviva Stadium, something many professional Irish players may never experience in their lifetime.
With Boyle set up to embrace the wide expanses of The Showgrounds’ pitch it may come down to a battle of the defences and those who can take their chances on Sunday afternoon.
The romantics will say a Killarney and Boyle Final, while the realists will be backing Sheriff against Evergreen for Junior Soccer’s showpiece at the Aviva Stadium on the 13th May. Either way it promises to be a roller coaster weekend of football in Kerry and Sligo.