At about 9.40pm this Friday night Waterford United will know what division they will be playing in next season. Having finished one point clear of relegated Longford Town, the Blues had to wait and see who they would face in the play-off games and following Finn Harps’ 2-0 victory over Dundalk the players of Waterford United knew that they had to face the long journey to Donegal for the first leg in Ballyfoey last night (Tuesday).
Both Waterford United and Finn Harps have dreadful record’s in play-off games and the only thing certain was that one of the clubs would put to bed once and for all a record that does not make happy reading for supporters of both clubs. The Blues have lost four play-off series: to Monaghan United, Kilkenny City and on two occasion to Dundalk.
But Finn Harps have somehow managed to lose five play-off sagas. They lost 3-1 on aggregate to Cobh Ramblers in season 1993-94. The following season they played out two scoreless draws with Athlone Town but they lost 5-3 on penalties. They were back in the play-offs again in season 2001-02 but after drawing 3-3 on aggregate with Longford Town they lost yet again on penalties, 6-5. Galway United got the better of them in season 2002-03, 2-1 on aggregate and they made it three seasons on the trot when Derry City beat them 2-1 on aggregate in two games which produced many talking points in what was a bitter local derby affair.
An interesting fact to emerge from those games is that despite their poor overall record, they have never actually lost a home game in play-off contests.
Blues boss Gareth Cronin was in Ballyfoey to watch Finn Harps play Dundalk and he observed that the present Finn Harps outfit is made up of players who have been around quite a while. Many of their players were playing when Cronin was strutting his stuff as a player in the league.
Considering Finn Harps home record in play-offs perhaps a draw would have been a good result for Waterford last night. Leading goalscorer Vinny Sullivan had to sit out the first leg due to suspension but the Dungarvan-born striker will be back for Friday’s second leg.
Away goals do not count double in play-off games so if the sides are level, extra time and penalties will be required to see who will play in the Premier League next season and who will play in the lower grade.
It is worth noting that this is the third season running that Gareth Cronin is involved in a play-off situation. Two years ago he was assistant manager to Dermot Keely as Dublin City relegated Shamrock Rovers to the First Division. Last year he was the manager of Waterford United when they lost to Dundalk in a game which no one was quite sure what was at stake.
Kick off on Friday is at 7.45pm. It will not be a place for the faint-hearted.