The undoubted tie of the Sports Direct Men’s FAI Cup first round takes place on Sunday evening when Dundalk welcome Shamrock Rovers to Oriel Park.
It will be the 38th time that the clubs have met in the competition, and the first a David McMillan hat-trick inspired Dundalk to victory in the 2020 ‘Covid Cup Final’ at the Aviva Stadium.
The last FAI Cup meeting between the sides at Oriel Park took place at the semi-final stage in October 2017. Robbie Benson put the Lilywhites in front but Rovers hit back through Brandon Miele to force a replay.
The game in Tallaght proved to be a memorable one as Dundalk ran out 4-2 winners with current head coach Stephen O’Donnell securing Dundalk their place at the Aviva Stadium with a looping header.
Dundalk (12) and Rovers (25) have won the competition 37 times between them but both sides are going into the game on the back of a contrasting week in Europe.
O’Donnell’s side advanced to the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League with a 3-1 win over FCB Magpies on Thursday whereas Rovers were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League by Icelandic side Breidablik on Tuesday night.
The reigning league champions have had the benefit of two extra days’ rest to prepare for Sunday’s tie and O’Donnell accepted that Stephen Bradley would have more options at his disposal.
“Rovers have more depth in their squad so from that point of view, they’d be more suited to banging out the games close together.
“It’s going to be a test for our boys in relation to the numbers we have but from an inclusion point of view everyone will feel a part of it and feel they have a realistic chance of playing,” said O’Donnell.
Dundalk were handed a massive boost ahead of the tie by Cameron Elliott’s inclusion on the bench against the Magpies and O’Donnell hinted that the Scottish striker would play some part against Rovers.
“We’d like to think so,” said O’Donnell. “It would have been early throwing Cammi on on Thursday but we’ll see how he is for Sunday.”
John Martin played an integral role in the win over FCB Magpies on Thursday night, coming off the bench to score the second goal, and he said that Dundalk were full of confidence going into the clash
“It’s nice to be in this little phase where we’re bouncing into big games every couple of days,” he said. “They’re coming thick and fast and they don’t come any bigger than Rovers at Oriel.
“We beat them at Oriel Park in the league a few weeks ago, and we played well. They’ll be a bit wounded after going out of the Champions League this week but we feel confident against any team at Oriel and it’s a chance for us to knock them out.”
Rovers won the 2019 FAI Cup by beating Dundalk in a penalty shootout and O’Donnell said that his players had been practising spot kicks in the lead-up to this fixture.
“Yeah, whenever we play a game that can go to penalties, we’ll practise penalties. No matter what game it is, if there’s a possible outcome of that night going to penalties then we’ll practice them,” he said.