BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DONAL O’Brien doesn’t beat around the bush – he wants Cockhill Celtic to push on and win the FAI Intermediate Cup.
The former Derry City and Finn Harps player was never one to whitewash anything in his playing days and his is something of a refreshing vibe in these days where it is the norm to talk up the opponent’s chances while simultaneously ruling yourself out of contention.
Not since Fanad United’s days of glory in the competition has a Donegal club managed to go the distance – but O’Brien believes Cockhill can bridge the gap.
Domestic League and Cup winners in 2013, the USL’s double winners lowered the colours of fancied Leinster Senior League side Crumlin United, two times winners of the Intermediate prize in recent years, in the last round.
It was a win that opened a couple of gateways for O’Brien’s charges, who head for Porterstown in his native Dublin this Sunday to face St Mochtas in the last sixteen of the competition while the Inishowen club will also be in the hat for the first round of the FAI Ford Senior Cup in a couple of months’ time.
“We need to forget about the Crumlin game here because there’s a lot at stake in terms of the club and how we progress,” O’Brien says.
“If we win this match against St Mochtas, there’s no reason we can’t go all the way with the right draw. I’d look at it and maybe think that it could be our year.
“If you’re beating the likes of Crumlin then I should expect to be beating the likes of St Mochtas, and that is no disrespect to them at all. We will prepare well and work hard.
“We played Crumlin and we were up against the odds. We got the result and came back up here. We didn’t play as well, but we did well to win it 2-1. We got the result and I just hope that show the same hunger and endeavour as we did against Crumlin. If we do, I think we’ll win.
“I just hope that people don’t think that Crumlin was our Cup final.”
These are uncharted waves for Cockhill, but O’Brien feels that his team is ready to push on. They defeated Crumlin 2-1 in a replay at The Charlie O’Donnell Sports Grounds after a 0-0 draw in Dublin.
Jimmy Bradley, who broke an arm in the first game with Crumlin, remains absent this weekend, but Peter Doherty, who suffered a broken nose in the same game, has since returned to action. Malachy McDermott, scorer of a precious brace in last month’s win, has been feeling a hamstring injury of late, but is expected to make it for Sunday’s game.
“The squad looks healthy,” says O’Brien – who is aiming to add to his ranks in time for the new USL season next month.
“I have three or four good players to come in if anyone does get injured.
“I’m still a little bit light in terms of a left-sided midfielder or a left-back. That is the type of player I will be trying to get into the club now in the next few weeks before the new Ulster Senior League season.
“I’m targeting the new faces for the new USL season. I think that we should have enough players within the squad to get us over the St Mochtas game. It depends on whether we want it or not.”
On Bradley’s absence, O’Brien said: “The season before last Jimmy missed out at the time of the season when we needed him. He’s out but he’ll be back in three weeks, back in time for the new season and he’ll go straight in. It’s not good in one sense but it’ll be good in another. Jimmy is a big loss, but we have enough to go through.”
In O’Brien’s reign, Cockhill have been League runners-up twice and have won the League twice under his direction and are boosted by the retention of his 2013 squad. So far, Gavin Cullen, their goalkeeper who is so vital to their cause, has resisted a temptation to return to Finn Harps.
O’Brien said: “We are starting to play like a team and we know each other a lot better now. It is the same group of boys that has been here for the last few seasons – and I think it can get better this season. This is a great Cup to go and put ourselves on the map.”
“It’s hard to win the League consecutively up here because it’s so competitive, but I’ve always wanted us to get a run in this Cup.”
O’Brien was also the man who helped to guide the USL representative team to glory in the FAI Intermediate Inter-provincials in Sligo and the professional approach is his hallmark, with Cockhill set to spend Saturday night in Dublin.
He said: “It gives us a chance to bond. We want people to get a taste for that. We want them to be saying: ‘This is where I want to be’. Hopefully they’ll take that professional approach into their own preparation, the training and the matches.”
Five years ago, Kildrum Tigers scored a 4-1 win at St Mochta’s, who currently lie fifth in Senior Division 1A of the Leinster Senior League, the third tier. They are something of the draw specialists, having drawn nine of their 14 League games to date.
They lost 3-1 to Greystones on Sunday. Despite being a couple of tiers down in the LSL ranks, they come with a formidable opponent, in the former Bohemians striker Glen Crowe, holder of two international caps.
O’Brien said: “I had them watched in a 3-0 win against Broadford. Crowe scored two in the box. My thing is: ‘Let’s keep a high line and don’t let him play in the box’. We have to cut the threat out.”