SPORTING GESTURE Westport United’s Shaun Tagg commiserates with a Newpark AFC opponent after the final whistle in Sunday’s FAI Junior Cup clash at United Park. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
THE FAI Junior Cup remains the most prestigious competition for junior soccer clubs across the country, so to have two Mayo representatives in the latter stages is a major reason to be optimistic and cheerful about the grassroots game in the county.
The 2005 winners Westport United qualified for the last eight of the tournament with a 1-0 win at home to Newpark FC on Sunday; while Super League champions Castlebar Celtic recorded a famous 2-0 victory away to Dublin supremos Tolka Rovers in the capital in the sixth round.
For Westport United, this territory is nothing new.
Cast your mind back to last year, when the Covies were defeated by Limerick’s Aisling Annacotty at a packed-out United Park. The infamous scenes that followed, where United launched a protest over an alleged ineligible player, followed by an unsuccessful appeal to the FAI. . . The saga rumbled on and on and delayed the final of the competition.
Coincidently (and quite bizarrely), Aisling Annacotty pursued similar avenues after their semi-final defeat to Sheriff, submitting two unsuccessful appeals to the FAI.
However, this time around Mickey Feeney’s Westport United side — which has been re-energised by some new faces and new signings — will be hoping to avoid any off-field drama and qualify in the old-fashioned way.
With their current squad, you wouldn’t bet against them.
Although veteran defender Joe Lawless missed Sunday’s game, their new-look squad has been strengthened by the emergence of some young talent and that makes them a formidable challenge for any opposition, particularly in the fortress that is United Park.
Meanwhile, their neighbours and rivals Castlebar Celtic did what few expected of them at the weekend in turning over Tolka Rovers.
Rovers play their football in a higher division than well-known Dublin clubs such as Sheriff YC and Usher Celtic, who coincidently played in the last round, with the latter emerging as 3-0 winners.
Michael McNicholas’ side have earned themselves a home tie against Wexford’s Gorey Rangers to qualify for the last eight and enter the draw with Westport on February 18.
If the freescoring Jordan Loftus continues his incredible form, you’d fancy them to defeat the Wexford Premier Division side.
Clubs likes Killarney Celtic, Athenry, Fairview Rangers and Ferrybank FC are still in the hunt for the Junior Cup too, but there’s no doubt either Mayo side will fear absolutely no one from here on in.
The dream is still alive.