By Ryan Bailey
No story in Irish domestic football stirs as much heartache as the tale of St Patrick’s Athletic and the FAI Cup. The very mention of the competition brings so many unwanted memories for Pat's fans and Sunday’s narrow defeat to Derry only adds to the unwanted burden of the club’s cup history. The wait for that elusive blue-riband trophy endures and another year goes by without the Inchicore club being able to get their hands on the famous cup; they have now suffered heartache at the final hurdle on seven occasions since last being crowned cup champions in 1961.
All the talk will be about the Saints' remarkable 51-year cup hoodoo but nothing can be taken away from Declan Devine’s Derry City, however, who came away from Dublin 4 on a crisp November evening with their fifth FAI Cup crown after what was yet another pulsating domestic season finale. The Candystripes have experienced some major highs and lows in the 27 years they have been under the auspices of the League of Ireland and have come a long way since their last FAI Cup victory just six years ago.
Severe financial difficulties, expulsion from the league and demotion to the First Division are just some of the obstacles the Foylesiders have had to overcome in the last half decade but none have stopped the success on the field with two league titles, five FAI Cups and 10 League Cups taking pride of place in their ever-increasing trophy cabinet. The achievement of reaching the highlight of the domestic football calendar alone is a testament to all the hard work which has gone on behind the scenes over the past few years at the Brandywell and now that the club find themselves on a solid footing, Derry can establish themselves as one of the powerhouses of Irish football.
Lift-off | Stewart Greacan celebrates his equaliser during Sunday's FAI Cup final
City boss Declan Devine has had to deal with a plague of injuries to a number of key players throughout the season but still managed to reach two cup finals as well as finishing a respectable fifth place in the Airtricity Premier Division. Billed as underdogs heading into Sunday’s showpiece final, many people underestimated the ability and talent of a very young and revitalised Derry outfit. The club have an uncanny knack of producing and developing exciting young footballers and they pride themselves on a youth policy which has served them so well over the years. James McClean, Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt are recent Derry exports currently plying their trade across the Irish sea and there is plenty of evidence that some of their squad could be heading in a similar direction.
On their day, Derry are a match for anyone in the league and with the added bonus of European football returning to the Brandywell thanks to Sunday’s victory, 2013 is going to be a big season for this talented crop of players. Stephen McLaughlin, Ruaidhri Higgins, David McDaid, Rory Patterson are all at the peak of their careers and given the added experience which the likes of Ger Doherty, Barry Molloy and Stewart Greacen bring to the table, there is no doubting the title credentials of the Candystripes if they can avoid the injuries which they suffered last year.
Every successful side needs a passionate, devoted and determined manager and in Declan Devine, the Foylesiders certainly have that and more. The 39-year-old is a die-hard City fan and is as committed to the club as much as anyone. It would be an understatement to say the Derry boss was ecstatic after his side lifted the FAI Cup for the fifth time at the weekend. Devine heaped praise on his players as he passionately conducted his post-match interviews with the assembled press. His overriding feeling was joy but also the excitement as the prospects of the success that this squad can bring to this very much locally run club loomed large in his thoughts. Devine admitted he’s already looking forward to next March when the new campaign gets underway but after a much needed rest, he added.