RATHMULLAN Celtic player-manager Dara Patton says that his team will ‘step into the unknown’ when they take on Limerick side Regional United in the last-32 of the FAI Junior Cup at the Flagpole Field on Sunday at 12.30pm.
The seasiders, who famously landed the Donegal League Premier Division crown in 2013, have never made much of an impression in the Junior Cup, but this year they have gone on a good run through the competition.
They eliminated Gweedore United, Killylough FC, Gweedore Celtic, and Cavan Rovers to set up the clash with one of Limerick’s best sides.
Patton stresses that the league is number one on their agenda, but he is looking forward to Sunday’s match which is sure to draw a large crowd to Rathmullan.
“We’ve never been to this stage before so I suppose it is a bit of a step into the unknown,” said Patton.
“It’s a big game and it’s great to make it this far, but the league is still our priority. A cup run is a nice distraction, but our focus would still be on the league.”
Mickey Rodgers took over the reins at Rathmullan at the start of last season, but things didn’t go to plan. Patton stepped in midway through the season and managed to steady the ship after Rodgers had parted ways with the club.
“The way things panned out last season, we flirted with relegation for a little while and we were happy enough to just stay up.
“We brought in a few lads like Mark (Gallagher) and Alan Boal, who maybe weren’t getting a lot of football with the clubs they were at, but they came in and were excellent for us.”
Things have improved greatly for Rathmullan this year and they are very much in the mix for league honours. They currently sit in fourth position but have games in hand on the three sides above them.
Patton made a few astute signings in the close season, bringing in Ryan Gildea, arguably the best defender in the league, while he also persuaded veteran striker Eamonn Sheridan to return to the club after a year’s absence.
It hasn’t quite clicked for Sheridan this term, but they say form is temporary and class is permanent, and Patton is hopeful that he will come good again, just in time for the clash with Regional.
“Ryan Gildea is one of the best players at this level in the county, if not further afield, and he has shown what he is capable of with the Oscar Traynor team.
“Eamonn would probably be the first to admit that he hasn’t scored as many goals this year as he would have liked. Thankfully he scored two goals against Fanad in a friendly last week and it was good to see him firing again.
“Unfortunately, he has just gone through a bit of a dry spell and it’s tough when your whole game relies on scoring goals. But we have no doubts about him – he always comes good.”
With the Regional clash on the horizon, Patton arranged a friendly against his old teammate Arthur Lynch’s Fanad side, and the player-manager helped himself to a brace in a 4-2 win for Rathmullan.
“I was chatting to Arthur before Christmas and we agreed that we would get a wee game to get back in the swing of things again.
“It was just a bit of a leg loosener and a chance to get the turkey and selection boxes out of the system.
“It was hard enough to get some of the boys out but we got a good game and we were back out training again on Monday, so Christmas is long over now.”
Regional come to Rathmullan in fine form. They sit joint-top of the Limerick Junior Soccer Premier League along with the revered Pike Rovers and have won seven of the ten league games they have played this year.
They have a former League of Ireland striker to worry about, but Patton is hoping that his men will rise to the challenge in front of their home support.
“I’ve made a few enquiries and I’m not liking what I’m hearing,” Patton quipped.
“Their striker Garbhan Coughlan has scored something like 30 goals, which is more than our sum total over the last two seasons together.
“This is what happens when you get to this stage, you start coming up against excellent players.
“The likes of Eamonn and Ryan would have played at this type of level before, but it will be a learning curve for a lot of the other fellas, including me as a manager. Hopefully, we can do ourselves justice.”
The passionate Rathmullan supporters would love another road trip down the country in the next round, but Patton says his team are just focussed on trying to get past Regional.
“We’ll be looking to contain them at the start and then play our way into the game. We might be able to nick a goal on a set-piece then.
“There might be some boys who would like a road trip, but we aren’t looking any further ahead than Sunday’s match.”
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