Not for the first time in recent years, Carrick United have flown the Waterford and District League flag proudly in what is the most famous soccer cup competition in Ireland, and on Sunday next they will play Castlebar Celtic in the semi-final of the competition at 2.20pm in Ozier Park.
Waterford Crystal have of course done the same down through the years, reaching the finals of 1998 and 2005 and winning the trophy in glorious fashion in Terryland Park in 2006 by defeating Athenry in the decider.
Hibernians won the Blue Riband in 1947. Evergreen were the next Waterford club to win the trophy in 1953. Bohemians, who were defeated in the 1952, 1956 and 1989 finals, were the next Waterford club to lift the famous silver pot in 1996.
Hibernians lost out in the deciders of 1960 and 1961 so it is not surprising that Waterford football lovers have deep affection for the FAI Junior Cup. Considering that the competition commenced in 1924, the number of local clubs who have won the cup, and indeed reached the final, is quite small so those players who do manage to pick up a winners’ medal are quite rightly regarded as something of folk heroes within the confines of football in Waterford.
The players of the Hibernians team of 1947, for example, are to this day talked about fondly, and rightly so. That famous Hibernians team (who defeated Iona CYMS, Dublin) was as follows: Tommy O’Dwyer, John Boyce, Johnny “Nish” Barns, Ritchie Collins, Michael Doyle, Tommy White, Rory O’Connor, Johnny Kennedy, Paddy Carey, Willie Coad and Pierie Kelly.
Since Carrick United began to win league titles for fun they have also enjoyed some wonderful long runs in the FAI Junior Cup and they made it to the final of 2004, only to lose to Fairview Rangers in the decider which was played at the RSC.
The occasion got to them on that day and ever since they have been determined to make it back to a final and now they are just 90 minutes away from doing just that.
Path to last four
Over 700 clubs entered the FAI Junior Cup this season so it takes a hell of a lot of games to reach the last four and as a result Carrick have played eight matches to get to this stage. They played their first game of the current campaign way back in September.
* Game 1: Bolton 0 Carrick United 4. A wet and blustery Sunday morning but Carrick made light of the dreadful weather. Goals from Ian Cleary (2), Stephen Hahessy and Alan Ryan put the Waterford League champions on their way.
* Game 2: Red Star 0 Carrick United 2. Red Star had won the Division Two double and they were expected to give Carrick a tough game but two goals by Ian Cleary in the first 5 minutes killed off the game. Red Star battled well but they were never going to get back into the game.
* Game 3: Park Rangers 0 Carrick United 4. A tricky game for Carrick and a third away match on the trot. Park Rangers in previous years had made a habit of knocking Premier League teams out of the cup but goals from Ian Cleary (penalty), Alan Redmond and two late strikes from Thomas Fitzgerald gave Carrick a facile victory.
* Game 4: Carrick United 1 Waterford Crystal 1 (Carrick won 3-2 on pens). This was billed ‘Game of the Season’ and it turned out to be just that. A real cracker of a match saw Keith Walsh score in ordinary time for Carrick and in the penalty shoot-out Stephen Hahhessy, Ritchie Lawrence and Barry Murphy netted from the spot. Goalkeeper Adrian Walsh also played his part in this victory.
* Game 5: Carrick United 3 Cahir Park 1. This was not one of Carrick’s better games and they did not use any top gears to defeat a pretty but punchless Cahir Park outfit. Ian Cleary, Thomas Fitzgerald (penalty) and an OG gave the home side an easy enough victory.
* Game 6: Killarney Celtic 1 Carrick United 2 (AET). Visits to Co Kerry do not worry Carrick and once again they came back from the Kingdom with a victory. Brian Barry scored with a brilliant 25-yard free-kick and Barry Murphy did the business in extra-time. This was a very tough encounter but a much fitter “Super Hoops” outfit deserved their victory.
* Game 7: Trinity Corinthians 0 Carrick United 1. A trip to the capital to play one of the top sides in the United Churches League. As expected Trinity Corinthians put it up to the Waterford champions but the huge playing area suited Carrick and a sublime Barry Murphy header meant that it was a happy team and group of supporters who travelled back from Dublin to Carrick.
* Game 8: Redcastle United 1 Carrick United 1 (Carrick won 5-3 on pens). Carrick’s ‘Tour of Ireland’ took them to Donegal for this quarter-final tie. They bossed the game but it was the home side who scored against the run of play. Daryl Kavanagh equalised with a brilliant free-kick. Extra-time was played but it took a penalty shoot-out to decide the game. John Walsh, Daryl Kavanagh, Brian Barry, Barry Murphy and Anthony O’Donnell all found the net for Carrick and again ‘keeper Adrian Walsh did his stuff.
It has been an extraordinary path of the semi-final and now it is Ozier Park for the Waterford Premier League champions and they have an extra incentive to win on Sunday because if they win they will play the final at the RSC against either the holders Killester United or Croduff.
That was the venue where they lost to Fairview Rangers in 2004, who were the holders of the trophy at that time. If Killester defeat Corduff (something they are expected to do easily) then Carrick United will once again play the holders at the same venue should they overcome Castlebar Celtic this Sunday.
Perhaps it is written in the stars that Carrick should win the famous trophy at the RSC after all, but first they must get the better of a side from Co Mayo who will pose a big threat.
Mayo may not be known as a hot-bed of soccer but the game dates back a long time up there. Castlebar’s first soccer team was established in 1924 but no one is quite sure if the team was called Castlebar Celtic or simply Castlebar.
It took until 1928 before any organisation was properly brought into place and games were played in a place called Niland’s Field which was situated beside the local Bacon Factory.
At this time there was not a Mayo League as such and Westport was the only other soccer club in the county, so a lot of travelling had to be done by both clubs. It took until 1947 for Castlebar Celtic to win their first major trophy, the Connacht Cup, when they defeated Galway Rovers.
A gentleman from Omagh arrived in Castlebar in the 1920s. Hughie McGartland served the club as a player but he also served the club as secretary for the best part of 40 years and he was the key figure in the purchase of Flannelly’s Field, which is now Celtic Park, the home ground of Castlebar Celtic.
The first game played there was in 1958. To date the club have won the Mayo League on 16 occasions (the last time in 2006) and the Connacht Cup 9 times, most recently in 2003.
Last season they reached the semi-final of the FAI Junior Cup, so they are a very experienced outfit indeed. They are managed by the former Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps defender Gavin Dykes.
In their quarter-final they defeated St Michael’s of the South Tipperary League in Celtic Park. A Shane Smith OG gave Gavin Dykes side victory. They recorded that victory without three of their key players (Sean Reilly, Simon Kelly and Joey Maloney).
Speaking after that game, Dykes paid tribute to his players. “I think they did brilliantly, considering that we were without three of our top players and lost two more (Steve Ryan and goalkeeper Mick Wallace) during the course of the game. I have a great bunch of players. They are very professional. They are prepared to work very hard on their game.
“We spent all day Saturday (the day before the game) working on set pieces and our goal ultimately came from one, even if it was an own goal. Joseph Reilly and Declan Flynn came on and both have staked a claim for the game against Carrick United. That’s what it is all about”.
The Mayo club’s manager then explained why he decided to play just one out-and-out striker against St Michael’s despite playing at home. “I studied the way St Michael’s play and I felt the game plan I choose was the correct one. We needed pace on both flanks in order to put pressure on their defence. That was the thinking behind it. They have some good defenders and I suspect we asked a few questions of them”. Castlebar Celtic opened up their FAI Junior Cup campaign by defeating Erris United 2-0. In the next round they hammered Inver Celtic 6-0. Moyvilla were next on their hit list. Castlebar won 1-0.
Just like Carrick, they also defeated Kerry opposition on their path to the semi-finals. They beat Tralee Dynamoes 1-0. Illis United were defeated 4-0. Grattan United held them to a 1-1 draw but Castlebar won the penalty shoot-out 5-3.
The 1-0 win over St Michael’s does of course mean that they have conceded only one goal along the way, which is impressive to say the very least.
Mick Wallace is their first choice goalkeeper. Born in Scotland he is a good shot-stopper. Neil McNicholas replaced him against St Michael’s when he got injured and played very well.
James Minogue and Niall Walsh are Castlebar’s full-backs. Andy Neary is a solid centre-half. Pat Fitzgerald and Sean McHale are busy midfield players. Ger O’Boyle plays out wide with Gerry Burke also on the flank. Burke takes in-swinging corner kicks and it was one of his deliveries which led to the goal against St Michael’s.
Gary Price is their main striker. The Castlebar players play the ball up to him at every possible opportunity. Declan Flynn slots in beside Andy Neary at the heart of their defence. Steve Ryan operates just in front of the back four (or five). Mark Rowland, Shane Smyth and Neil Douglas are fringe front players.
Another striker is John Maughan. He scored two goals for Castlebar Celtic on the 22nd of March as they defeated Ballinasloe Town in the quarter- final of the Connacht Cup. Gerry Bourke and Gary Price scored the other goals in a 4-2 victory.
The following week they lost heavily (4-1) away to Douglas Hall in the FAI Senior Cup. Gary Price scored their only goal in that game. It is worth noting that Carrick United defeated Douglas Hall this season (3-0) in the Munster Senior Cup, so on that line of form, Carrick United should hold the upper hand.
After the FAI Senior Cup game, Gavin Dykes admitted that a much better performance would be required if they were to have any chance against the Waterford champions.
Carrick United are sweating on the fitness of star defender Anthony O’Donnell. “Daffy” picked up a terrible injury against Tramore two weeks ago and he was hobbling around on crutches for a long time after that game in Graun Park. His absence would be a major blow for the Waterford League outfit.
Star striker Thomas Fitzgerald has missed a lot of the season due to illness and his goal-scoring prowess is one of the reasons why they have not set the league alight this season. Hopefully the Carrick players will have found the rest period since the scoreless home draw with Ferrybank on Sunday week beneficial.
The Carrick panel for the big game on Sunday will be as follows: Adrian Walsh, James Walsh, Brian Barry, John Walsh, Keith Walsh, Anthony Power, Wayne Fitzgerald, Glen Keane, Ian Cleary, Richie Lawrence, Owen Burke, Alan Redmond, Stephen Hahessy and Barry Murphy.
Many of those players are card carrying squad members of the 2004 team and they have a glorious chance now to put things right, four years later. Carrick United play in the style of St Michael’s so it is possible that Castlebar Celtic will adopt the tactics they used against the South Tipperary side this Sunday.
It promises to be one of those very special days in Ozier Park and hopefully the huge travelling band of Carrick United supporters will head back home looking forward to an FAI Junior Cup final date in May.