Derry City skipper Patrick McEleney hoping to continue his FAI Cup love affair
SERIAL WINNER Patrick McEleney’s love affair with the FAI Cup began when winning the competition with his hometown club back in 2012.
Ten years on and he’s featured in five further finals at the Aviva Stadium taking his FAI Cup medal haul to three but that memorable win over St Patrick’s Athletic remains ‘one of the best nights of my career’.
The 29 year-old Shantallow man finds himself two games away from leading Derry City back to the National Stadium for the November 13th decider and has been busy enlightening his teammates from outside of the city about how much a day out at the Aviva would mean to the fans.
He knows exactly what it takes to reach the biggest stage on the domestic football scene and having gone toe-to-toe with Shamrock Rovers when playing for Dundalk over the past few seasons, he knows Derry must produce one of their finest performances of the season if they’re to keep that dream alive.
“I’ve tried to tell everybody, not just ahead of this game, but even from the Oliver Bond game, I was explaining to the boys who haven’t played in the competition, how good a day it is, especially if you win it and how much it actually means to the fans and the people of Derry.
“I obviously won it with Derry and it was one of the best nights of my career. It was the best few days actually,” he smiled. “You come back to Derry and the place is lit for a few days afterwards.
“It’s amazing. I played in the First Division and won the league cup before that but that day I realised ‘this is how you win’ and if you want to win trophies this is how you do it. I remember the game well. We scored late and it was brilliant. That started the whole process for me really.
“It’s an amazing day out and we’re only a couple of games from the final. Look, we have a big task ahead first. Somebody has to beat Shamrock Rovers to win the cup and it’s just the way it has to be, whether that’s now or you would have to play them in the final.
“It’s a brilliant game and a great tie for the neutrals. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to be a top game.”
McEleney reached the final for a second time with Derry in 2014 when losing to St Pat’s. Further defeats to Cork in both 2016 and 2017 followed but ‘Fats’ scored the winning goal with his head against Cork City in 2018. Missing out in the 2019 final through injury, he returned the following season to help Dundalk clinch the trophy against Rovers in 2020.
That season Dundalk were also juggling playing in the Europa League Group stages and after a 3-1 defeat to Molde in Norway came back to win the final 4-2 after extra time against the Hoops three days later. So he knows exactly what it takes to strike a balance between European and domestic duties and believes Rovers won’t have an issue with recovering from Thursday’s trip to Gent before taking on City on Sunday.
“It’s a difficult thing to do, the travelling is taxing on the body but they did it last week and were 4-0 up at half-time against Finn Harps. They have the squad to do it. I can only speak from my experience but maybe for them it could be different.
“Obviously you’d be hoping they will be tired. It’s hard to do but when you have the squad and players who can step in at any stage all over the pitch in every department. They will be ready, there’s no doubt about that. I know some of their players personally and they’ll be right up for it.”
Indeed, his former Dundalk teammates, Sean Gannon, Dan Cleary and Sean Hoare are amongst this Rovers squad and he expects them to be fully focussed on winning the FAI Cup this year.
“These are top players. I know them inside out and they’re winners so they won’t be lying down. They will play their game in Europe and it will be a quick shift towards Sunday. Right throughout the spin of their team, they have winners.
“This is a big hurdle. You just have to look at their record domestically and they’re players and where they’re playing this week so it’s a big task.”