Thursday 15 November 2018

FAI Cup quarter-final: Battle of the Rovers preview

LEO GRAY Sports Editor

ALAN KIRBY'S remarkable Cup predigree could be a vital component of Sligo Rovers' game plan to topple arch rivals Shamrock Rovers in next Monday's eagerly anticipated FAI Cup quarter-final clash at the Showgrounds.

With three FAI Cup medals and a League Cup medal already safely tucked away, the Waterford-born midfielder knows what it takes to survive in the unpredicatable terrain of knock-out football and his vast experience will be a massive boost to Paul Cook's side as they bid to repeat last year's final success over the Hoops.

Thirty-four-year-old Kirby was in the Longford Town side which won back -to-back FAI Cup titles in 2004 and 2005 and was a member of the Sporting Fingal squad which beat Rovers in the 2009 final at Tallaght Stadium. He also won a League Cup medal with Longford in 2004.

With such an impressive collelction of honours in the bag, it would be understandable if Kirby felt he had already achieved sufficient silverware to decorate a distinguished careeer. But the midfielder is just as hungry and ambitious for succcess now as he was when he began his professional career at Aston Villa seventeen years ago.

"I felt I made an important contribution to all the clubs I played for and it was great to have had Cup success at Longford and Sporting Fingal. Now I want to make a similar mark at Sligo. As you get older you appreciate succcess even more and I'm certainly ambitious enough to want more silverware before my career is over," he says.

After spending four years at Aston Villa, Kirby, who was a member of Brian Kerr's bronze medal winning U-18 team at the European Championships in 1998, returned to Ireland, linking up with his home town club, Waterford United, before joining Longford where he had five highly successful seasons. He later played for St. Patrick's Athletic and Sporting Fingal before joining Rovers at the end of last season.

"Sligo had an exceptional year last season so I didn't take too much persuasion to join them. After talking to Paul Cook, it was clear that the club was determined to build on last year's success. The club is run in a very professional way, the players are looked after very well, and it enjoys fantastic support in the community. It's very easy to settle into an environment like that and the fact that the players are such a great group of lads was a big help. We don't live in each other's pockets but we are a very close bunch and that helps to develop a strong bond in the dressing room which is important," Kirby explains.

A tireless worker with an eye for a defence splitting pass and an ability to ghost into dangerous attacking positions, Kirby has fitted effortlessly into Rovers' expressive style of football.

"It's great to be part of a squad which plays such open football. The manager and Gerry Carr encourage us to get the ball down and play constructive football and that certainly suits my style," he says.

Playing in the Europa Cup has been the highlight of the season so far and Kirby believes it is important for the club to qualify for European football again if they are to maintain the outstanding progress of recent years.

"We had a great experience in Europe this year. The draw in the Ukraine was a terrific result and although we were beaten in the second leg, the opportunity to play against top quality opposition was a great learning process. It's important that we try to get into European football again next year and continue to make progress," Kirby adds.

In that context, the Cup showdown with Shams is unquestionably one of the most important games of the season.

"If nothing else, the FAI Cup offers a gateway to Europe so that makes this week's game an extremely important one", says the midfielder. "Apart from that, the Cup has a special attraction of its own and I know it means a lot to our fans. I wasn't at the club last year but the lads are always telling me about the fantastic atmosphere and excitement the Cup run created around the town and county. I sampled some of that with Longford but Sligo is an even bigger club and I would love to be part of a Cup winning team with them."

After losing the 2010 final to Sligo in a dramatic penalty shoot-out, the Hoops will be determined to get revenge on this occasion but Kirby believes Rovers can end their Cup ambitions for a second year in a row.

"Everybody knows that Shamrock Rovers are an excellent team but the Cup is a one-off occasion and we have no reason to fear them," he says. "At this stage of the competition, teams begin to think about winning the Cup. I feel the winners of our game will have a great chance of going all the way. I'm sure thre will be a massive crowd at the game and a great atmosphere.

We're all looking forward to what should be a great occasion and we're confident we can keep our Cup hopes on course."