LETTERKENNY Rovers will depart for Dublin on Sunday morning to take on UCD in the first round of the FAI Cup.
Rovers have qualified for the prestigious competition as they reached the last 16 of the Intermediate Cup last season, and received a bye in the qualifying round.
That sets up a first round tie against UCD at the Belfield Bowl on Sunday at 2pm.
UCD may be bottom of the Premier Division at the moment, but they are still a highly-rated side, who play two levels above Rovers.
They are currently midway through their season, while the Letterkenny men are just beginning their campaign.
It’s a tough ask for Rovers, but team manager Eamonn McConigley is looking forward to seeing how his team match up in Belfield.
“It’s a big game and it’s one we are all looking forward to it,” said McConigley.
“It’s a nice competition to play in and it’s something to get excited about at the start of the year.
“Now maybe it does come a little bit earlier in the year than you would like, but it will be good to see where we are against senior opposition.”
McConigley is in his second stint as Rovers manager, and has been in charge since December 2014. Once again he will be joined in his backroom team by Anthony Gorman and Liam O’Donnell this season.
They have been busy preparing for the new season since they met up again in the middle of July.
“We have been back in pre-season for three weeks and we have played three pre-season friendlies, and won them all.
“We have beaten Dergview, Maiden City, and Glengad, and they are all good teams.
“Glengad are playing in the FAI Cup this week as well (away to St Michael’s) so it was good to get a run out against them.”
There have been a few comings and goings at Leckview over the summer months, and last year’s captain Darren McElwaine is one of the departures with the experienced striker moving to the Donegal League where he will link up with Convoy Arsenal.
“Macca has moved on, and Brian McVeigh is going to America. Unfortunately emigration hits every club.
“I’m not sure what the story is on Christy Connaghan, who is away on holidays at the minute and is due back this week.
“The other man we have lost is Conor Tourish who has gone up to Institute.
“Obviously we are disappointed to lose him, but at least he is challenging himself by going to senior football, and we wish him all the best.”
Tourish is a considerable loss as he was a rock at the heart of the Rovers defence in recent seasons.
However, McConigley wasted no time in searching for a replacement, and he has recruited impressively.
Emmet Friars is a former Northern Ireland Under 21 International, and he has previously played for Notts County, Derry City, Dungannon Swifts, Portadown, Crusaders, Ballinamallard, and Limavady among others.
McConigley has also signed former Finn Harps player Gary Merritt, while he is hopeful of securing the services of Matty Harkin, and Zach and Dan O’Donnell have re-joined the club.
“We have brought in a very experienced player in Emmet Friars.
“He has played in our three pre-season games and he has been very impressive. He gets everyone going and is a big addition.
“Gary Merritt has signed from Milford and we are delighted to have him on board. Gary has played in two of our pre-season games and was excellent in both.”
Rovers last played in the FAI Cup back in 2016, when they were unlucky to lose out to Athlone Town.
“We played Athlone a couple of years ago, and we drew with them up there, and brought them back to extra-time where they beat us 1-0.
“We had two great games with them and it was a brilliant experience but we have lost a lot of players since that.
“I suppose the disappointing thing about the FAI Cup this year is that there isn’t the possibility to bring them to Leckview this season.
“The game has to be finished on the day, but at least we know what we have to do.”
UCD are struggling at the bottom of the Premier Division, and have lost their last three games.
However, they have beaten Finn Harps and Bohemians in the last five weeks, and boast some of the most talented young players in the country within their ranks.
“I watched them against Derry City in the Brandywell, and I have been sent two videos from their last two games as well
“They are two grades above us and you have to respect what they will bring.
“The only thing I would worry about is how our fitness will hold up against theirs.
“They have lost a few players but they seem to have a settled team again there now.
“Obviously they are still pushing Finn Harps very hard in the league, so it will be interesting to see how they approach our game.
“It will be a tough game for us, but we are fresh and hopefully that will help us.”