SOCCER: FAI Junior Cup
THE last ferry to Arranmore island on Friday evening will be running much later than usual this week as it awaits the return of the Arranmore United football team from their FAI Junior Cup meeting with Ballybofey United.
“The Arranmore ferry will depart Burtonport at half eleven on Friday night but I’m sure the ferry-man will wait for us if we’re a wee bit late,” team manager Jerry Early quipped.
Keeping an eye on ferry times is just one of the unique quirks that comes with running an island team – one who ceased to exist for a short period two years ago before their famous island spirit kicked in.
With Sunday football putting a huge strain on some of his players, Early’s team now ply their trade in the Saturday league and they were rewarded for their endeavours when they landed the Glencar Inn Division Two crown last season.
“The people of Arranmore are very proud of their team and at the last count we’ll have thirty-odd supporters travelling with us to the Finn Valley Centre on Friday evening,” he said.
The game had originally been pencilled in for Sunday afternoon but it has been brought forward with the agreement of both teams.
The game still comes too late for influential midfielder David Ward though as he flew out to America yesterday, Thursday.
“He’s a massive lose. He’s away to America for six to eight months so that’s the end of him for this season. He’s a huge influence on the team.
“We were in a bad state two years ago. We lost a huge number of players to emigration and the club was actually gone for a while. But we managed to start it up again and the switch to Saturday football was a big turning point for us,” he said.
The Arranmore manager has tried, where possible, to play an all-island based team but it’s getting harder with each passing year.
“We started the season quite well but we’ve lads away at college and, to be honest, I don’t expect them to come home every weekend. We’ve a lad in Cork and a few others in Galway. The club has been more than good with them when it comes to covering their travelling expenses but it’s the ten-hour commute which, ultimately, gets to them.
“It’s amazing that we still have a club given the amount of players we’ve lost in recent times. It’s a struggle every year but the switch to Saturday football has helped stabilise the club somewhat,” he said.
“With my contacts in the game I could get eleven players from wherever I wanted in the county to pull on the Arranmore jersey but I’ve made a conscious decision to try and have at least ninety per cent of the team from the island. It doesn’t make sense to have a team on Arranmore and then fill it with players from the mainland.
“No one wants to lose – including me – but if we can win the odd cup every two to three years we would be delighted,” he said.
What about the decision to play this weekend’s FAI Junior Cup game on a Friday evening?“It suits all parties. We’ve a group of lads away to Galway on Saturday, although to be fair to them they were going to stay had the match been on the Sunday.
“The match is at half-seven and the ferry doesn’t leave until half eleven-ish which gives players and supporters alike the opportunity to stop off for refreshments on the way home,” he said.
Arranmore United have already secured their place in the semi-final stages of this year’s Voodoo Cup but they’re greedy for another good cup run.
“We’re realistic enough to know that we won’t win the FAI Junior Cup but that said we won’t fear any team and we’ll be hard to beat,” he said.
Ballybofey United manager Patrick Bonar said that Friday night also suits his players, many of whom also line out for the local Sean MacCumhaills Gaelic Football and hurling teams.
Bonar has put together a blend of youth and experience in the squad and they’re one of four teams who currently lead the way at the top of the Division Two table.
“Shaun ‘Wizzy’ McGowan is a massive addition to the club. He played last year too but had been travelling over and back from England for a few weeks. We’ve also got Niall McCloskey, who played with LYIT and Harps, while we’ve added Mark Marley from Drumkeen and Michael Lynch from Cappry,” he said.
County hurlers Paddy Hannigan and David White also line out for Ballybofey United although they’ve lost veteran defender and team captain John Gregg to a knee injury.
“Our target at the start of the season was to win promotion. We fell just short of the play-offs last year but we would also love a cup run too. We came close to getting out of the county in the Junior Cup last year, losing out to a last minute goal against Illies Celtic.
“I’ve always liked the Junior Cup – it’s a great competition and we’ll see where it takes us this year, starting with Arranmore. They’re a good team and we won’t be taking them for granted,” Bonar said.