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Magic of the Cup still casts a spell on Richardson

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Drogheda United manager Damien Richardson can understand the desire of his players to atone for last year's FAI Cup final defeat to Sligo Rovers. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Drogheda United manager Damien Richardson can understand the desire of his players to atone for last year's FAI Cup final defeat to Sligo Rovers. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Drogheda United manager Damien Richardson can understand the desire of his players to atone for last year's FAI Cup final defeat to Sligo Rovers. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Drogheda United manager Damien Richardson can sense a special Ford FAI Cup atmosphere building up by the Boyne for Friday night's quarter-final clash with Derry City at United Park.

Richardson, the quintessential 'football man' whose passion for the game remains undimmed at the ripe young age of 67, relishes this opportunity to do battle at the serious end of the Cup competition.

"Drogheda's a football-mad town. Whilst it has lost its way a little bit, and things have been difficult and money is very tight, a good Cup run can give confidence, and not just for this season, but with a view to next season," he says.

Seven years out of the game since parting company with Cork City, he was brought in from the cold by Drogheda when they axed Robbie Horgan. 'Rico' got the call, and didn't take long to decide he wanted to avail of the opportunity.

"The feelings never go away. They lie dormant, but they're always there. Until the day you die, you're a footballer, basically," he says. "I say to the players, 'I miss playing'. It's a ridiculous thing to say at my age but I'd still love to be playing.

"The next best thing is being on the training ground with players. I can't be a footballer but I can still hang around with footballers and I can maybe guide footballers."

The Dubliner has been in charge for six league matches, winning three, drawing two and losing one. On the day he took over, Drogheda had 21 points; now they have 32, well clear of relegation-threatened UCD (19), and Athlone Town (16).

They have conceded only four goals in those six games, scoring 11. Now it's time for the Cup. Richardson has won the venerable trophy twice as a player with Shamrock Rovers in 1968 and '69; and as a manager he guided Shelbourne to FAI Cup victory twice, and Cork City once.

"Initially when I came in, the Cup wasn't relevant. Relegation had to be avoided but in the intervening weeks - that's receded greatly, so the Cup now becomes the essential focus of the season," he says. "It's a very important phase (the quarter-finals), and the one I think, that perhaps without realising it, there's an awful lot of pressure on, not just from the playing point of view, but financially for clubs as well.

"If you get a good draw, and then in the semi-finals as well, there's a good few shillings coming in that makes everyone's heart a littler happier." The last Cup final Richardson lost was in 2005 as Cork City boss - and that was to Drogheda United, which was the first, and to date, only time the Louth men have won the Cup.

Agonisingly

They came agonisingly close last year, but Drogheda lost 3-2 to Sligo Rovers in a thrilling final at the Aviva Stadium, under Mick Cooke's guidance. "When you lose a Cup final, the incentive is there to come back because you don't want a repeat of that," says Richardson.

As the game with Derry looms, Richardson can understand the desire of the players to atone for that defeat this year, and has no hesitation in saying: "I'm not going to make any bones about it. I'd love to win the Cup.

"You can be as coy as you want, you can be careful as you want, but there'd be nothing better."

There speaks the romantic aspect of Rico in relation to football and the Cup, but he blends those sentiments with professional pragmatism.

The manager and coaches Neale Fenn and Darius Kierans have made defensive stability the cornerstone of their work, and Drogheda will be determined. "There's a great sense of buoyancy in people talking about the match in a much more enthusiastic way.

"There's nothing better than a Cup run to elevate that to the next level," says Richardson.

Irish Independent