by Shane Callaghan
Michael Daly came to Drogheda United’s rescue after his 85th-minute equaliser denied 10-man Finn Harps a place in the semi-final of the FAI Cup following a 1-1 draw in Donegal.
Kevin McHugh had given the hosts a surprise 1-0 lead at half-time, but Ciaran Coll’s red card on 56 minutes gave the Boynesiders fresh impetus in their quest to restore parity.
The hosts produced a herculean defensive effort to withstand wave after wave of Drogheda pressure and looked to have sealed their passage to the semi-final of the competition, before Daly smashed home an equaliser five minutes from time.
As as result of his winning strike for Drogheda, Daly now serves his one match suspension (as a result of his yellow card in the Louth derby last week) in the replay on Monday. This means that he is available for selection for the EA Sports Cup final in Tallaght next Saturday, a wonderful personal outcome for him.
Manager Mick Cooke elected to name just one change to the team which went down 1-0 to Dundalk on Sunday, with Cathal Brady dropping to the bench in favour of Paul O’Conor.
Cooke’s men sported white t-shirts with the number ten on the back as they were put through their paces prior to kick off, a tribute to team-mate Gary O’Neill who was diagnosed with testicular cancer earlier this week.
Harps, who sit sixth in Ireland’s second-tier, matched their Premier Division counterparts in the early exchanges, with United goalkeeper Micheál Schlingermann proving the busier of the two stoppers after denying efforts from Michael Funston and Thomas McNulty.
The Boynesiders responded well to the early pressure and could have taken the lead if not for a couple of smart saves from ‘keeper Ciaran Gallagher, who produced heroics to deny both Ryan and Gavin Brennan opening the scoring.
Harps marksman McHugh was on-hand to give the hosts a surprise lead against the run-of-play. The veteran forward exchanged a neat one-two with Thomas McMonagle before dispatching a sublime curling effort past Schlingermann from the edge of the area.
It very nearly got worse for punch-drunk Drogheda, as two minutes later Coll raced through one-on-one with Schlingermann but the 22-year-old did well to maintain the one-goal deficit.
Peter Hutton’s men went into the interval with a narrow lead, but that advantage was surrendered 11 minutes after half-time, as Coll was dismissed by referee Tomas Connolly following an altercation with midfielder David Cassidy.
Cooke attempted to capitalise on his numerical advantage tactically by calling defender Shane Grimes ashore for striker Peter Hynes, whose impact on proceedings was soon felt.
The target-man rose highest to head Schlingermann’s goal-kick into the path of Declan O’Brien, but Fabio’s route to goal was blocked by McMonagle who averted the danger.
Heartbreak was on the horizon for Hutton’s charges, though, as five minutes from time Daly popped up unmarked to smash home Cassidy’s teasing ball across the face of goal.
Both sides will meet at Hunky Dory Park on Monday evening for part two in a bid to determine who secures their place in the semi-final of the FAI Cup.
by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United will be aiming to progress to the final four when they take on Finn Harps in the quarter-finals of the Ford FAI Cup at Finn Park, kick off 8pm.
The Drogs will be without Gary O’Neill for the remainder of the season with the striker having been diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Graham Rusk remains out despite returning to training during the week while winger Cathal Brady is a doubt after he picked up a dead leg in the course of Sunday’s defeat to Dundalk.
United were knocked out at this stage of the competition last season after losing a replay on penalties at the hands of St. Patrick’s Athletic.
The last time that Drogheda advanced beyond this stage was the one and only time they lifted the trophy back in 2005 when Paul Doolin’s side defeated Cork City 2-0 in the final at Lansdowne Road.
As for their opponents, Harps are struggling in sixth place in the First Division following a disappointing campaign.
Manager Peter Hutton will be without the suspended Sean McCarron, while there are doubts over the availability of Kevin McHugh, Damien McNulty and Johnny Bonner.
The last time the sides met was in September 2008 when Drogheda ran out 3-1 winners in Finn Park courtesy of a double from Eamon Zayed and a strike from Guy Bates.
Speaking ahead of the game, Drogheda manager Mick Cooke was looking forward to the challenge that Harps will present.
“Obviously we will be looking to bounce back from Sunday, but the lads are focused and we’ve shown often this season that we can come back from defeats. Last season we were unfortunate to lose out to St Pats on penalties at the same stage, but we want to go further this year, it’s always nice to progress in the cup competitions.
“We’ve had Finn Harps watched a few times this season and I saw them last week and I thought they were better than the scoreline suggested. They are a fit team and Peter Hutton will have them well organised. Any Premier Division side is a good scalp for a First Division team and that’s what they will be thinking.
“The journey is long, but it won’t faze us, we are used to travelling on the road now in cup competitions, we’ve been to Derry, Sligo, Longford etc. this season in the cups and it’s something the lads are used to. It should be a good game and I’m sure we’ll bring support up with us. “
Michael Funston (Paul McVeigh 76’)
Alan McNally (Eric Foley 80’)
Shane Grimes (Peter Hynes 64’)
Gavin Brennan (Jason Marks 55’)
Kevin McHugh 22’
Michael Daly 85’
Kevin McHugh (yellow) 26’
Darragh Black (yellow) 55’
Ciaran Coll (red) 56’
Michael Funston (yellow) 64’
Pat McCann (yellow) 66’
Shaun McGowan (yellow) 90+4’
Shane Grimes (yellow) 26’
Ryan Brennan (yellow) 40’
Gavin Brennan (yellow) 41’
Derek Prendergast (yellow) 58’