Romance has returned to the FAI Cup

There’s nothing like a cup run to make fans dream.

With five Dublin teams and two others from the East of the country (Dundalk, Drogheda) it’s easy to forget there are League of Ireland teams spread across all four corners, but this season’s FAI Cup has undertaken a tour of Ireland.

St Patrick’s Athletic could reach the final in the Aviva Stadium having played all of their cup ties away from home – Dundalk last took that route to glory in 2019.

While financial gain via finishing positions in the English Premier League often trumps an FA Cup run across the water, there has been magic and romance in abundance in Ireland’s domestic adventure.

Last weekend’s quarter-finals saw games take place in Galway, Cork, Ballybofey and Drogheda which gave way to a bonkers night of action with Dundalk falling foul to the weather and a far superior Galway United team on Friday night while Cork City and St Patricks Athletic had to come from behind to see off First Division outfits Wexford and Finn Harps.

Bohemians meanwhile came through a tough away tie to Drogheda United to reach the last four for the second time in three years as they chase their first FAI Cup title since 2008.

When Derry City and Shamrock Rovers were knocked out in the early rounds of the competition there were groans and rolled eyes in some quarters as it seemed the draw had paved the way for St Pats and Bohs to rather coast towards the Aviva showpiece.

Those two teams may well meet in the final but their path won’t have been a smooth one.

Tuesday’s semi-final draw was perfect. The remaining two big hitters going away to the plucky underdog with a sense of romance surrounding any potential winner.

Cork City – looking to reach their first FAI Cup final for five seasons - have endured some tough times since the heady days of their rivalry with Dundalk and Turners Cross will be rocking when they welcome Premier Division title contenders St Pats.

Now a sleeping giant of Irish football the cup has offered a necessary distraction for the Leesiders from their Premier Division relegation scrap and with Ruairi Keating back in flying form they will be raring for a cupset against Jon Daly’s Saints.

Meanwhile, nobody will want to play First Division champions elect, Galway United after they trounced Dundalk 4-0 last Friday night with Declan Devine’s Bohs sure to do due diligence on the Westerners.

Galway United, often in the shadow of Connacht Rugby and Galway GAA will welcome Bohemians to a raucous Eamon Deacy Park. The trip to Galway will be the away day everyone wants next year but if the Dundalk quarter-final win is anything to go by, they already look like a well equipped side for Premier Division football and could cap promotion with a first cup final appearance since 1991.

It would be brilliant for Irish football to see one, if not two of these passionate footballing cities walking along Lansdowne Road in November. There is of course the dream of welcoming some big names from Europe next season should either team be successful.

Of course, we could see Bohemians face St Patrick’s Athletic in the decider and while they are both Dublin teams, who also get the bulk of media coverage and television time there would be a romantic tale in itself.

The 2021 final between the sides saw 37,126 pack into the Aviva Stadium and a repeat of the showpiece could see the attendance record smashed and even break the 40,000 mark for the first time with a full house not entirely out of the question.

The benefits of reaching the FAI Cup final are being felt by both sides, particularly Jon Daly’s St Pats.

The Inchicore outfit have seen a consistent rise in attendances at Richmond Park since winning their fourth FAI Cup crown in 2021 and another domestic title would see continued growth for the Saints.

For Bohemians of course, there is the chance to complete the ‘from the brink to glory’ novel.

A first piece of senior silverware since the 2010 Setanta Cup would perhaps represent a new dawn after the financial turmoil of the 2010s which saw them sink to part-time football and on the brink of extinction before finally returning to full time action this term.

Two games, four teams, each with their own storyline. The magic of the cup is alive and well in Ireland. Who will write their own romantic tale?