THEY'VE WAITED a long time to win a major trophy, so the fans of St Patrick's Athletic and Shamrock Rovers won't mind having to wait two more days before securing a place in the FAI Cup final.
But after a dramatic finish to yesterday's semi-final at Tallaght Stadium, where Pats earned a replay thanks to a last-minute own goal from Rovers winger Pat Kavanagh, Saints boss Pete Mahon believes that his side deserve a spot in the final at the new Lansdowne Road stadium next month.
A busy season shows no sign of letting up as tomorrow's replay at Richmond Park will be the 47th competitive game of the season for Rovers, one more than Pats, and while Pats will be glad of a second chance in the Cup -- they twice came from behind in yesterday's 2-2 draw -- the end-of-season slump goes on for Rovers, especially in terms of conceding late goals as the Hoops have now won just twice in their last seven games.
With the penultimate league game looming on Friday -- Rovers need to win at home to bottom side Drogheda United to retain any hope of taking the title away from Bohemians -- Rovers could have done without a midweek replay, though manager Michael O'Neill did say that if it took another three games to get to the Cup final he'd happily play them if there was a trophy at the end of it.
But it was the resilience of the Pats side which stood out in yesterday's semi, played in front of 4,605 fans. Eleven months ago an over-paid, underwhelming Pats side limped out of the Cup at home to a First Division side and Jeff Kenna departed as manager within days, but Mahon was very pleased with his side's attitude against long-time league leaders Rovers.
"Those players have given every last ounce in every game they have played this year. We're not the greatest team in the world, but we certainly can battle to the end," said Mahon.
"It would be a great reward for these players to get to the final and to the Aviva Stadium. It's a big occasion, the first Cup final at the new stadium and from a selfish point of view I would love to be there. I was manager of St Francis for the first Cup final at Lansdowne in 1990 and I'd love to be there as manager for the first final in the Aviva.
"Compared to what happened at this club before, I think this squad has more determination, more desire and more passion for the game.
"We are restricted financially but there is no money being wasted here, those days are gone. And the players at this club now are earning every cent they get.
"We are a part-time club but in terms of training and matches, the demands on the players have been that of a full-time squad, so we have been as close to full-time as you can get. So I would love to win the FAI Cup for those players and our supporters so they will have some reward for the effort they have put in this year.
"Tomorrow's game could just come down to a bit of luck. Rovers have beaten us twice at Richmond Park this season so they won't fear coming to our place, so we have to raise our game another notch," added Mahon.
Pats had to raise their game at different times in yesterday's game, especially in the first half as Rovers went 1-0 up on 16 minutes when Chris Turner got his head to a Billy Dennehy free kick and caught Pats keeper Gary Rogers off his line.
There was a further threat from the home side on 21 minutes when Gary Twigg went close from a Stephen Rice cross, but just after the half-hour mark Pats drew level, when striker Danny North did the donkey work out wide and sent in a cross for David McAllister to finish.
Pats could have been in front at the half-time break as it needed a superb save from Hoops keeper Alan Mannus to keep out another McAllister effort, this time the pass coming from Ryan Guy.
On 65 minutes the game burst back into life when Twigg scored his 24th goal of the season, heading home from a superb cross by Rice, the Rovers midfielder who was pressed into action as a full back due to a shortage of defenders available to O'Neill.
And when Mannus came up with another stunning save to keep out McAllister again on 70 minutes it seemed like this would be Rovers' day, but in the final minute Pats got their second equaliser. Sub Sean Stewart curled in a corner kick and the first man to make contact was Rovers sub Kavanagh, whose header was powerful and well-placed, but at the wrong end.
"We're disappointed with the result as we deserved to win the match, but we have the opportunity tomorrow night to put that right," said Rovers boss O'Neill.
"We'll have Craig Sives and Danny Murphy back for the replay but it looks like we have lost James Chambers as well, so it's good news and bad news.
"The main thing is that if we win this game tomorrow we go to the Cup final. Playing Sunday and Tuesday is a bit tight but we will deal with it."