Sligo 'keeper Clarke bidding to end family's long Cup wait
CIARAN KELLY'S heroics in last year's FAI Ford Cup final will haunt Shamrock Rovers for some time to come, but tonight at the Showgrounds the Hoops will face a different Sligo goalkeeper as they return to the competition closest to their hearts.
And Brendan Clarke is well aware of the significance of Irish football's Blue Riband.
The 'keeper grew up steeped in the history of St Patrick's Athletic, a club whose Cup famine dwarfs that of Rovers. His grandfather Dessie Byrne played in the 1954 final when St Pat's lost to Drumcondra and his uncle Sean Byrne was in the Saints side that lost to Finn Harps in the 1974 showpiece.
A Ballyfermot native, Clarke has Cup scars of his own. But now ensconced in the northwest with the holders, he's looking to end a family's struggle.
"I was at Pat's when they were runners-up in 2007 and '08. But I was there for seven years and I played 30 competitive games maybe -- I've played more this year than I did in seven years," he said.
"Because I grew up quite local, I knew a lot of the fans. They'd just love to win the FAI Cup -- but hopefully it's us this year.
"Whatever competition we are in we want to try and win it. Our focus now is on the FAI Cup.
"Everyone is just focused on this one. The success they had last year, they want to re-live that. I'm sure they had a great day in the Aviva Stadium and they want to go and experience that again.
"Obviously they want to try and achieve more with the league."
Tonight will see last year's finalists meet for the seventh time this season. So far, it's four for the Hoops, two for Sligo but the tide has been changing, with Paul Cook's men getting the upper hand in the last two league games that have blown the league race open.
With Michael O'Neill's men competing on three fronts, the Cup is his lowest priority, but Sligo are expecting nothing but the usual stern test. Pat Flynn is suspended for Rovers and Karl Moore is cup-tied, while there are doubts over Gary Twigg (thigh) and Ronan Finn (groin).
"The two teams know each other inside out so on any given day, either team can win," Clarke said.
"I don't think there is any good time to get Rovers -- they are league champions. You just look at the squad they have: they could put two teams out and they have strength in depth. You look at players who were sat in the stand last Friday -- they could easily walk into any team in the league."
Still, Sligo will fancy their chances in front of a big crowd at the Showgrounds against a Rovers side on whom the schedule is taking its toll.
Verdict: Home win