Sligo Rovers 1; Waterford United 0
Waterford United turned in a brave and gutsy display at the Showgrounds on Friday last in front of over 4,000 spectators and a huge TV audience and for long periods they looked like the Premier League team rather than a misfiring Sligo Rovers side who struggled all through the first half.
However, a headed goal by Matthew Blinkhorn (who hadn’t scored since August 8th) after 76 minutes was enough to book Sligo’s first final appearance since 1994 and break the hearts of the Waterford players and the loyal Blues supporters who were treated like dogs by the host club.
The travelling fans were not allowed take their booked seats in the stand and as a result they had to stand all through the game in a camped area of the ground. The Waterford management were also treated in a disgraceful manner, so much so that people like Tony Burke and Greg Pheasy had to watch the match from the players’ tunnel. Waterford United have lodged an official complaint to the FAI and there is no doubt that Sligo Rovers will have a lot of answering to do.
On the field of play Waterford, despite having to play without three key players, gave their all and were dreadfully unlucky not to have at least earned a replay. Michael Devine, the Blues’ captain and goalkeeper was suspended but his understudy Kevin Burns, the former Youth International, was in many people’s eyes man-of-the-match, even though Blinkhorn got the award.
After the game Waterford manager Stephen Henderson cut a lonely figure as he shed tears in the narrow walkway behind the main stand. He was bitterly upset but he could be extremely proud of his team. This was their 43rd game of a season which has produced many memorable games. The Waterford supporters approached Henderson and told him just that, and the gaffer’s spirits were lifted somewhat by that show of support.
There was a lovely moment as a middle-aged lady, dressed from head to toe and red and white and wearing a massive Sligo Rovers hat, shook Stephen’s hand and said ‘I admire you so much and what you are doing down there in Waterford. Keep you head up and continue what you have started’.
It was a delightful moment on what was an emotional roller-coaster of an evening. That lady’s sentiments will be echoed by all Blues supporters. Hopefully Stephen Henderson’s work at the RSC has just begun.
Sligo Rovers tested the young Waterford goalkeeper as early as the second minute. Goal machine Rafael Cretaro lashed in a blistering drive from 20 yards but Burns tipped the ball over his crossbar in brilliant fashion.
Waterford took up the running for the remainder of the first half. Seamus Long took a pass from Stephen Grant on 11 minutes and his angled drive from went narrowly wide of the far upright.
Four minutes later David Grincell made the Sligo goalkeeper Cieran Kelly work. Graham Cummins, Waterford’s leading goalscorer, played in the middle of the park and he almost opened the scoring on 16 minutes. Vinny Sullivan sent the ball over from the left but Cummins, who had run from deep, headed powerfully over the crossbar.
Sligo were all over the place at that stage and were unable to string two or three passes together. Vinny Sullivan made contact with a throw-in from John Kearney on 23 minutes but the Sligo goalkeeper cut out the Dungravan man’s hooked effort from the left. Sullivan then headed narrowly wide after meeting a cross from Dave Warren.
Waterford United went close once again on 53 minutes. John Kearney cracked in a low shot from outside the penalty area. Cieran Kelly parried the ball which fell to David Grincell who crossed from the left to Vinny Sullivan who headed at goal. It looked as if a Sligo defender handled but play was waved on.
Sullivan did get the ball into the net shortly afterwards after meeting a right wing corner taken by Kevin Waters but the referee claimed that Sullivan had handled the ball and he was booked as a result.
Just after the hour mark Kevin Burns spread his legs to save a certain goal when Cretaro got free inside the penalty area. Burns produced a stunning save on 63 minutes, tipping a bullet like header from Gavin Peers over his crossbar.
Sligo had cranked up the pressure at this stage and Waterford had to be rock solid at the back. Conor O’Grady was just off target on 65 minutes and two minutes later Matthew Blinkhorn headed wide.
Owen Morrison, a former Derry City player who had replaced Brian Cash at half-time, created the goal which broke Waterford’s resistance on 76 minutes. He sent over a fine cross from the right to Blinkhorn who headed to the net at the far post.
Needless to say Waterford went in search of an equaliser with Declan Woodgate and Gary Dunphy coming on but alas it was not to be and Waterford’s cup dream died beneath Ben Bulben.
Sligo Rovers: Cieran Kelly, Danny Ventre, Joe Kendrick, Gavin Peers, Alan Keane, Conor O’Grady, Brian Cash, Romauld Boco, Matthew Blinkhorn, Rafael Cretaro, Eoin Doyle. Subs: Owen Morrison for Cash (H-T), Richie Ryan for Ventre (56 mins).
Waterford United: Kevin Burns, Seamus Long, Kenny Browne, Kevin Murray, John Kearney, Stephen Grant, Kevin Waters, Graham Cummins, Dave Warren, Vinny Sullivan, David Grincell. Subs: Gary Dunphy for Waters (81 mins), Declan Woodgate for Grincell (85 mins).
Referee: Damien Hancock (Dublin)