Second half goals from Declan O’Brien and David Cassidy enabled Drogheda to beat 10 man Finn Harps 2-0 and set up a Wee County derby against Dundalk in the FAI Ford Cup semi-final.
Drogheda United went into this FAI Cup quarter-final clash at Hunky Dory Park bidding to continue their impressive run in the domestic cups this season. With an appearance in the Setanta Sports Cup final and another date against the same opposition, Shamrock Rovers, to come this Saturday, Mick Cooke’s men have certainly not lacked in confidence when it comes to knock-out competitions this season.
Finn Harps, for their part, have impressed on their travels en route to the semis, with a 4-0 away win at Cobh Ramblers in the previous round and only Mick Daly’s late equaliser in Ballybofey prevented them taking their place in the semi-final.
The home side began brightly and the first real chance of note fell to them after 10 minutes; David Cassidy, charging into the box, seemed to have lost the opportunity following a finely judged tackle from Thomas McMonagle, but the ball broke fortuitously back to him and the resulting lobbed effort narrowly cleared Ciaran Gallagher’s goal.
While Finn Harps’ skipper, Kevin McHugh, was ensuring the visitors remained composed in midfield, Drogheda were beginning to find some space and rhythm down the flanks with Shane Grimes and Ryan Brennan looking more and more influential.
A lovely piece of skill from Harps’ forward Pat McCann saw him flick the ball around McNally and set up Michael Funston, who might have done better than ballooning his shot well over in the 25th minute. However the home side responded quickly and two minutes later, an excellent turn and through ball from Peter Hynes put Declan O’Brien clear with only Gallagher to beat, but his shot flew narrowly past the Harps’ goalkeeper’s right post. Drogheda’s deep crosses into the box were posing questions for the Donegal team’s defence, and Ryan Brennan almost capitalised with a snapshot from a botched McMonagle clearance.
The visitors were not without their attacking moments though and 10 minutes before the break, Pat McCann made space for himself on the edge of the Drogs’ area, but the end product lacked conviction and Michael Schlingermann in the home goal mopped up without undue fuss. The chances, at a premium for much of the half, were beginning to flow in its final five minutes; Cassidy’s deep cross from the right was headed just over by O’Brien for Drogheda. Supporters had to wait 45 minutes for the game’s first corner, but from a Finn Harps perspective, it was well worth it; from Michael Funston’s fine delivery, Keith Cowan forced Schlingermann to belatedly warm his palms in turning away a point blank header.
If the first half was lacking genuine goal chances, the second half more than compensated, with O’Brien opening the scoring for the home side with just six minutes gone. Some fine one-two reverse passing between Shane Grimes and Cassidy on the edge of the Harps’ area left Cassidy with space to cross and his low drive across the face of the visitors’ goal caused chaos in their defence.
In the resulting goal mouth scramble, Ryan Brennan’s initially saved attempt saw the ball ricocheting kindly into the path of O’Brien, and standing virtually on the goal line, who made no mistake.
The Donegal team almost grabbed an equaliser though when they were awarded a free kick just outside the area midway through the second half. Thomas McMonagle’s drilled effort was almost spilled by Schlingermann, who gathered at the second attempt.
The game was developing something of an edge however and the visitors found themselves reduced to 10 men in the 74th minute when Damien McNulty got his second yellow card for a push on David Cassidy. This followed a late challenge by Cassidy on Michael Funston and the ensuing melee between the two sets of players threatened to spoil a previously good-spirited contest.
When the football resumed, the home side continued to look the more composed and sought to make use of their greater space against the depleted Harps. Ryan Brennan and Cassidy were at the heart of the Drogs’ best moves and the latter’s lofted pass with 10 minutes left put Hynes in the clear, only for Gallagher to make the save with the maximum of acrobatics.
The home side continued to press and nearly got their insurance second goal with six minutes to go, only for a last ditch McMonagle tackle to divert Cassidy’s effort over the bar.
Harps struggled to fashion a clear cut chance in the closing minutes, but captain McHugh’s long range effort from 20 yards out with two minutes to go had Drogheda hearts in mouths. However, Mick Cooke’s men made sure, when with two minutes of the additional six minutes of injury time played, a slick counter attacking move saw Paul O’Conor’s pass find Brennan in space. His momentum took him past the last Harps’ defender and with only Gallagher to beat, he unselfishly steered the ball into the path of the marginally better placed Cassidy who capped his man of the match performance with an assured finish.
Drogheda can now look forward to a televised semi-final against their arch rivals as their formidable run of form in this season’s domestic cups continues.