St Pat’s tick most of the boxes – if not the historic one

Liam Buckley’s side aiming to win the club’s first FAI Cup in 53 years by beating Derry

If they accepted the league table was really a true reflection of the difference between the two teams in tomorrow's Ford FAI Cup final then Derry City might just opt to save themselves the long round trip to Dublin. Instead, Peter Hutton might pass it sharing a few instances from his own career when both form and favourites were made a mockery of.

True, just about every conceivable statistic points towards a win for St Patrick’s Athletic whose confidence can be hampered only by history.

It’s 53 years since they won this competition and it was Derry who defeated them on the last two occasions they came this close.

Liam Buckley is the first to admit that weighing up each side's chances by way of a glance at the Premier Division table is misleading – at least in so far as City stopped worrying about their progress on that front some time back.


European qualification via the league was looking like a long shot even by the time Hutton took charge of the team from Roddy Collins back in May and over the months that followed the long-time club captain has increasingly put all of his Europa League eggs in one basket. Shamrock Rovers will now be hoping that the northerners come a cropper with their goal in sight.

Terrible start

It’s a significant prize but that place in Europe is still about all that Hutton and his men have to lose as they prepare for the game. Having made a terrible start to the season then endured the trauma of cutting very short the Collins era, City have done very well to get this far.

Under Hutton the team’s sense of identity has been restored and a little of its lost momentum recovered. It is a young, largely local squad, lacking the sort of depth required to mount a serious title challenge. But with half a dozen or so of the side that upset the odds two years ago to beat the same opponents, City won’t be overly daunted by the return trip to Dublin.

For all his marshalling of his troops towards tomorrow, Hutton still has a handful of significant problems to contend with as he sits down to name his team. The biggest revolves around the right back position with Sean Kelly cup-tied and neither of the two most likely replacements, Barry Molloy and Danny Ventre ideally placed to take over the role.

Molloy, who played there in the semi-final win over Rovers, will start despite a recent groin problem but the real problem with relocating the team’s sole survivor from the 2006 and 2012 successes over the Inchicore outfit is that Barry McNamee is struggling to a far greater extent with a similar injury and if he can’t start or does but then breaks down then the 30-year-old will most likely be required to work flat out in the centre of the field to prevent a quality St Patrick’s midfield taking control.

Bringing Ventre back in from the start, meanwhile, would be a gamble for he has not entirely re-established himself since undergoing knee surgery. But if McNamee fails to make it, Hutton may have little option either there, or in central defence, where Aaron Barry and Ryan McBride both picked up knocks against Bohemians, but still look almost certain to start.

Media outside

Hutton has been happy to keep the media outside the Brandywell gates this week as he weighed up his options.

Buckley is rather better placed and St Pat's come into the game with a bit of momentum behind them having most recently beaten Sligo Rovers pretty well to finish the season third, three points ahead of Rovers and with the division's second best goal difference.

League champions a year ago, the team is packed with attacking talent and defensive experience. Buckley predicts an open contest in which his side may again trade blows and goals in the exciting way they did on each of the last two occasions the two sides met in the final.

Aaron Greene is cup-tied but Keith Fahey should thrive in this environment while Christy Fagan, Chris Forrester and Conan Byrne will relish the task against a City defence with serious fitness issues.

Byrne and Fagan represent the most serious goal threats, with 50 between them in all competitions this season but Killian Brennan’s set-pieces have match-winning potential too while the centre backs are both capable of posing a major aerial threat from corners.

For Derry, Rory Patterson scored twice two years ago and will have to be carefully handled this time out but the Dubliners' approach is likely to be to attempt to outscore their opponents something that – if we are lucky – might help to generate a game somewhat reminiscent of their enthralling 2006 final.

St Patrick’s were highly fancied in 2012 too, of course, and lost again. But even if they don’t reproduce the sort of dominance this time that they exerted in Hutton’s first game in charge, a 5-2 drubbing back in Richmond Park, everything points to them having the edge again here. Everything that is, except history.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times