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'It would be a massive, massive upset' - The Donegal side aiming to pull off an FAI Cup giantkilling

Glengad United take on Waterford this Saturday.

The Glengad team.
The Glengad team.
Image: Denis McGonagle

NOT MANY PEOPLE are giving Glengad United much of a chance on Saturday.

In fact, just getting to this stage in the FAI Cup is remarkable in itself.

They were the first-ever Donegal junior team to make the first round of the competition. They beat Home Farm in the preliminary stages, and then overcame St Michael’s in Tipperary to set up this weekend’s last-16 tie with Waterford. The latter victory on penalty kicks was particularly sweet, as Glengad beat the side who defeated them in the FAI Junior Cup semi-final earlier this year.

As if playing a Premier Division team in itself wasn’t enough of a challenge for the Inishowen-based amateurs, there is also the fact that whereas Alan Reynolds’ team are deep into their season, Glengad have yet to begin their league campaign and will consequently find it difficult to match their opponents’ fitness.

Despite being drawn at home, Glengad will not play the match at their usual ground, The Crua, which has been deemed unsuitable for the occasion. Instead, Maginn Park in Buncrana will be the venue for the 5pm kick-off.

The club’s 58-year-old manager Shane Byrne, a former Ulster Senior League player with Buncrana Hearts, has been in charge for an eight-year period, earning four league titles and four runners-up spots during that period. Overcoming Waterford, however, would surely be his greatest managerial feat to date.

“It would be a massive, massive upset to get a result out of it,” he tells The42. “A lot of professional players play with Waterford, whereas we’ve done really well to get to the stage we’re at.

“I suppose anything can happen in a game of football, but Waterford would need to have an off day and we’d need to play really well.

If it had been in The Crua, I would have fancied our chances a bit more, to be honest. The fact that it’s Maginn, it’s a pitch we play a lot on too, but it wouldn’t be as open or as wide to the elements as The Crua. We’re used to playing there, we know how to play it. 

“But it is what it is. It’s played in Maginn, it’s a lovely pitch, we can have no qualms about that.”

Prior to the tie, Byrne kept a keen eye on the Blues during their game with Shamrock Rovers earlier this week, which they lost 5-1.

“Shamrock Rovers got two really good goals to start with, two really good strikes. The third goal, Waterford at that stage of the game were in the ascendancy. They changed the shape at half-time into a diamond. Their left-back, I don’t know what he was thinking, he just passed it straight to the centre forward and Shamrock Rovers got the third goal.

“Only for a silly mistake, they looked the most likely to score the next goal. So that scoreline doesn’t really reflect the game. They’re a big, physical side, very fit with some very technically gifted players.”

Waterford players during the warm up Glengad face Waterford in the FAI Cup on Saturday. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

And while they are unaccustomed to playing teams at Waterford’s level, Byrne insists his men will not be overawed by the occasion.

“The big thing for us will be keeping our discipline and shape. The longer the game goes on, if we can keep it at 0-0, the better.

“An early goal for them could change things a wee bit, but we’d be looking to keep our shape and make it difficult for them, because they’re going to have a lot of the ball.

“If we can keep a tight ship as long as we can, with the pace we have up front, you never know. You could catch them on the break, so we’ll just have to look at it and see.”

While Waterford have accomplished League of Ireland campaigners to choose from, including JJ Lunney, Kenny Browne and Shane Duggan, Byrne says his side have plenty of talent within their ranks also. 

Matthew Byrne is an Irish junior international, while many of the team were part of the Inishowen side that won the FAI Oscar Traynor Trophy in 2015.

A couple of players, including goalkeeper Kevin McLaughlin, defender Finn McClure and Dillon Ruddy all had spells with Derry City’s U19 team, while midfielder Cathal McDaid is a former Irish underage international.

So the potential is certainly there for a number of players to compete at a higher level, though in some cases, they have wilfully turned down such opportunities.

“Four or five of our players have been asked to join senior clubs,” Byrne says. “A lot of them declined due to work commitments of their own. A lot of League of Ireland games are played on a Friday night. Some professional people have a job that really can’t let them off on a Friday night.”

Although the Glengad players will enjoy the big occasion tomorrow, Byrne is determined that their league campaign will not get sidetracked as a result of this relative glamour tie.

I’m sure, no matter what happens, the boys will have a few beers on Saturday night. But we’ll back training again on Tuesday and Thursday next week. Our League Cup starts [next week] and our league starts the following weekend, with a game the following Friday and one the following Sunday. So we’ll enjoy the night, but it’ll back to business as usual on Tuesday.”

And while the club may not have the resources and ability that Waterford can avail of, they will be determined to compensate by showing plenty of heart in their performance this weekend. The indefatigable spirit that has seen them survive extra-time and penalties in two previous rounds of the competition is epitomised by veteran club physio, Tommy Harkin, who Donegal Daily have described as one of the county’s “most loved football men”.

“Tommy’s a physio at Finn Harps,” Byrne explains. “He’s a physio with me as well. He’s spent a lifetime in football. Everyone in Derry City, Sligo, Finn Harps knows Tommy. The last round of this competition, he was in Tallaght the night before with Finn Harps playing Shamrock Rovers. He went back to Donegal. He got in a car the next morning at seven o’clock and drove to Tipperary to be with [the team] in St Michael’s. There are young fellas at 23 [that would find that schedule too intense]. 

“Tommy’s somebody else. I’ve never met anyone in football like him — his enthusiasm for the game at his age. He drove down last night after training in The Crua — he lives in [Donegal village] Carrigans. He’s very important to the club.”

Upcoming FAI Cup fixtures:

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Paul Fennessy

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