Avondale United were one of the success stories of last season’s FAI Cup, as the non-league side saw off Collinstown FC and St. Michaels’s AFC before holding Finn Harps to an impressive 1-1 draw at the quarter-final stage, eventually losing the replay 4-1 up in Finn Park.
For player/manager Dave O’Keefe, the away tie with the Donegal side saw him make an increasingly rare appearance in the Avondale United goal, as the Cork native winds down his playing career and turns his head towards focusing solely on the management of the team. ‘In the back of your head there’s that possibility of coming on in matches, and I’m probably in my last season playing as well. At Finn Harps last year, our goalkeeper Daniel O’Leary was sent-off with twenty minutes to go so I had to come on, and that was a great baptism of fire coming into the new season. Avondale are a big club and we all put our hands to the wheel. When we’re required we all like to pitch in, and it’s been no different for me where I’ve had to come in in a couple of cup matches.’
Avondale head into Sunday’s Cork derby against Cobh Wanderers fresh off the back of two cup victories, after what O’Keefe explains has been a hectic couple of weeks. ‘Momentum is good at the moment. We won the Beamish Stout Senior Cup last Sunday at Turner’s Cross, beating Blarney United 2-1 after extra-time, and we also won the Donie Ford Cup as well the Sunday before, beating Rockwell 1-0, so we’ve two cups from two finals in two weeks so things are going well at the moment.’
‘We’ve actually been in four cup finals recently but we’ve only won two of them,’ O’Keefe added. ‘I suppose the Beamish Cup is the biggest local cup in Cork so we’re happy to come out with that. We’ve been through a long season. I was looking at the figures the other night and we’ve been involved in nine cup competitions as well as the league, so I think Sunday is going to be our 46th game of the season.’
Tomorrow won’t be the two teams first encounter this year, as O’Keefe explains. ‘We played them a couple of weeks ago in the Beamish Cup, and there was very little between the teams, it was actually a 0-0 draw, and we went through on penalties. We’d consider that a good occasion but this is a clean slate. They have a lot of firepower and have been scoring a lot of goals this season. They’re a very good outfit. They do have some very good players, and they ran away with the Munster Senior League Second Division, there’s a few League of Ireland players playing with them too we’re really looking forward to it, I suppose we’re similar to Wanderers in that our season is coming to a close now. We’ve played them a couple of times over the years and we’d be fairly used to their pitch’
Located just outside the city of Cork, the club has plenty of competition for support, especially with Cork City doing so well in the SSE Airticity League Premier Division, regularly drawing in crowds upwards of 5,000 fans for games at Turner’s Cross. As the second round draw was being made, many non-league sides would have hoped to draw a Premier Division team, but for O’Keefe, progression is more important than a once-off money-spinner. ‘Personally I’d prefer a home draw if we were fortunate to go through against Wanderers. I’d like to progress as much as possible and maybe draw another non-league team at home. For us down here to draw against Cork City would probably have been the best draw. I suppose if you get the opportunity to be drawing one of the bigger fish, it can be good to get that extra bit of exposure, as a lot of League of Ireland fans wouldn’t be that familiar with the grass roots locally and it can give us our day in the sun or fifteen minutes of fame.’
As far as Sunday goes O’Keefe knows the challenge Cobh Wanderers pose, but his team can look to last season’s exploits as inspiration, ‘Obviously we want to play in the FAI Cup, it’s an open draw and we’re actually in a very similar situation to last year when we drew another non-league team. We know there’s a good possibility of progressing and that can be a good start to next season if we can get through Sunday.’