Cup draw overshadowed by Setanta fears and Bray doubts
The occasion was the draw for the second round of the FAI Cup but discussion about the future of the Setanta Cup and the strife at Bray Wanderers hung in the air at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
Holders St Patrick's Athletic and neighbours Shamrock Rovers will meet in the tie of the round in Inchicore on May 29, a topical clash considering the two sides are preparing for a league fixture at the venue tomorrow.
However, both clubs are also waiting to hear if they will return from their summer break next month to participate in the Setanta Cup, the cross-border tournament which looks to be on shaky ground after the draw scheduled for today was cancelled and Rovers tweeted that the proposed summer renewal was off the agenda.
A June switch was proposed with a view to helping the eight qualifiers prepare for European competition, but that was not enough to convince Linfield that the timing is right and they have pulled out for the second year in a row, after taking issue with the February staging last time around.
Last night, a statement from Linfield said: "This club's players will only be beginning their return to pre-season training on June 16.
"With the first of these Setanta Cup games scheduled to commence on June 20, this club is of the view that it would be too difficult in such a short period for players to reach the required level and condition of match-fitness to enable them to take part in a major competitive game against a leading team from the Republic of Ireland that will be in full flow, in the middle of their domestic season."
The four League of Ireland sides had been given dates for their games which tied in with TV plans and their scheduled break, yet that caused some disquiet north of the border, with Glenavon complaining that they would have to travel to Cork for a Monday date in the hypothetical event they were drawn away to the Leesiders.
An inability to find a time of year that suits two leagues that operate different seasons has presented the organisers with difficulty.
"We were asked to deliver four sides on particular dates, which we've done," said League of Ireland chief Fran Gavin. "Our clubs are committed to playing in it. It needs all parties to be behind it and committed."
Gavin does have pressing issues on his own doorstep with the stalling of a proposed takeover of Bray Wanderers by the McGettigan Group leading to fears that Bray are in trouble.
General manager Martin O'Connor was present at the draw - where the Seagulls drew Limerick in the second all-Premier tie - and refused to be drawn on the specifics of the delay and the current ownership status.
"There's a lot happening at the moment and I'm confident that within seven days it will all be finished," said O'Connor, who added that Bray have the funds to get through the season if the takeover collapses. "Talks are at a very tender stage."
Meanwhile, Rovers manager Pat Fenlon is conscious that his club's fans are desperate to end a wait for a cup triumph which goes back to 1987.
"It'll be tasty at Inchicore and the fact we're down there on Friday adds to it," he said. "Every trophy that Rovers play in, people expect us to win and we haven't won the FAI Cup in a long time. Everyone keeps telling me about Rovers' history in it but it's a long time since we won it."
FAI Cup draw (ties played week ending Sunday, May 31): Tolka Rovers v Waterford, Dundalk v Shelbourne, Athlone Town v Liffey Wanderers, Cobh Wanderers v Avondale United, Edenderry Town v Derry City, Longford v Finn Harps, Cockhill Celtic v St Mochta's, Wexford Youths v Cork City, Galway United v North End United, Killester v Cobh Ramblers, UCD v Sheriff YC, St Pat's Ath v Shamrock Rovers; Bohemians v Firhouse Clover, Sligo Rovers v Crumlin United, Bray v Limerick, Drogheda United v Cabinteely