HAVING endured a 50-year wait since their team last won the FAI Cup, St Patrick's Athletic fans can surely wait for another few days for their dream to be realised.
But Pete Mahon's men will have to do an awful lot better if they are to reach the final, let alone win the cup this season, following a poor showing in last night's semi-final away to First Division side Shelbourne, a 1-1 draw.
The result means that a replay -- at Richmond Park on Monday night -- is necessary but Pats really should have a place in the final already secured, as at half time in Tolka Park last night they had a one-goal lead. Danny North put them ahead on 41 minutes with his 19th goal of the season and they also had a one-man advantage as Shels midfielder Colm James was dismissed before the break after a clash with Derek Pender, though the red card did seem harsh.
But a tired-looking Pats side, playing their 48th game of the season, threw away those advantages and their golden ticket to the final and let a dogged and determined 10-man Shels side back into the game, former Pats striker Philly Hughes hitting the net for the 24th time this season with 19 minutes remaining after some comical defending from Pats.
"We can have no excuses, we were poor, and we could easily have lost that game last night," admitted Pats boss Pete Mahon.
"We can't blame the referee or the pitch or anything else. We just didn't play well enough to win the game. We were disjointed, we never passed the ball with any sort of conviction and I don't know what we were doing defensively for their goal.
"Our lads have been good all season in fairness to them, but we didn't play well last night. Even against 10 men, we never got a foothold on the game. We looked a little bit dangerous on the break, but we shouldn't be depending on breakaway play against 10 men so that's disappointing.
"We had it in our own hands, a one-goal lead against 10 men but we couldn't finish it off. Now we have a game on Monday night that we could do without -- we have four players suspended for a start and a couple of injuries, so the pendulum could swing in Shelbourne's favour, especially if we are missing a few bodies and if they can get players back.
"These are the trials and tribulations. The players put us through the ringer every week and they never make it easy."
In front of a crowd of 2,538 -- a disappointing turnout for a big local derby when this was the only game played in Dublin last night -- Shels showed some positive signs early on with leading scorer Hughes keeping Pats keeper Gary Rogers on his toes.
But Pats gradually took some control of the game and had the lead with four minutes to go in the first half, North pouncing after Shels failed to clear a Stephen Bradley free kick, and Shels looked to be in more trouble with that 43rd-minute red card for James.
But Shels -- still very much in contention for the First Division title -- snapped their way back into the game through Hughes on 71 minutes.
Shels keeper Dean Delaney sent in a long goal kick, both Evan McMillan and Derek Pender showed some slack defending as Kevin Dawson tried to get on the end of Delaney's ball, and Hughes nipped in to score.
"Given that we were a goal and a man down at the break, I thought our second-half performance was very good," said Shels boss Alan Mathews.
"We took the initiative, tried to get back into the game and got a goal. Pats are a strong side and Monday will be very difficult, but we have earned our chance to play them again and we'll see how we cope on Monday night."
Pats will be without Dave Mulcahy, Paul Crowley, Derek Pender and Anto Murphy on Monday due to suspension, while Derek Doyle and Danny North are injury concerns, but Mahon hopes that home advantage could count for his side.
He said: "We have only lost one game at home this season, we have a great record there but it's a big test for us now on Monday to see if we can respond."