by Con Murphy

After a hectic couple of weeks in the race for the Airtricity League title, for supporters of the top four sides in the division the prize of a place in the FAI Ford Cup final at the Aviva Stadium on 14 November was the priority last weekend.

I had the pleasure of Pete Mahon’s company as analyst on RTÉ Radio’s coverage of the first semi-final on Friday night as Bohemians hosted Sligo Rovers.

Pete admitted afterwards: ‘It was nice to watch a match without the stress of standing on the sideline.’

It was a good chance for Pete to assess his potential final opponents, with emphasis very much on the word ‘potential’, as St Pat’s still had the small matter of an away match to Shamrock Rovers to get through before they could start dreaming of a cup final and a chance to end a 49-year cup drought.

I think everyone, even the Bohs fans, were agreed after the match on Friday night that Sligo were by far the better side and fully deserving of their win. It was nice to see the Bohs fans applaud the Sligo players off the pitch after the game, recognising that the football they’d played on the night was superior to the Gypsies.

Pete felt Bohemians looked a little leg weary after their recent push in the league and insisted that the battle for the league title could still have an interesting twist or two before the season is out.

The man has been involved in football a lot longer than I’ve been watching it, so who am I to question his judgement?

However, I can’t envisage Bohemians slipping up at this late stage. They play Galway on Friday at Terryland Park, and although they’ve struggled against Sean Connor’s side this season, I think they should have much too much for the Westerners, even with Barry Ryan back in goal.

With a home match against Dundalk to follow, it would be a very brave man that would bet against Bohs making it a third league title in a row come Friday week.

The double might be gone for Bohs, but there is a chance of redemption for Sligo after last season’s defeat by Sporting in the cup final at Tallaght.

The carrot of the first ever domestic match at the Aviva Stadium is a very nice one for supporters of Sligo, Pat’s and Rovers.

There’s a good chance that by the time you read this the replay between the Saints and the Hoops will have already taken place (If you are reading this from Tuesday night on, I hope it was a good match). The aforementioned Mr Mahon wasn’t best pleased with the replay being fixed only 48 hours after the initial fixture. Nor was I to be honest. I’m presenting Crimecall on RTÉ One on Tuesday night and will miss the replay as a result.

Unfortunately RTÉ can’t show the match live because of a Europe-wide agreement with UEFA where broadcast partners are not allowed to transmit a domestic game on the same night as a Champions League match.

It’s worth reiterating that RTÉ had no say in which semi-final was fixed for which night. A number of Sligo Rovers fans were under the impression that RTÉ had insisted that the Bohemians v Sligo game be played on the Friday night, but it was in fact an FAI decision. Indeed, at least one journalist tweeted that RTÉ had been responsible for deciding which match should be played on which day, but that was totally erroneous.

Going back to the decision to fix the Pat’s v Rovers replay for just 48 hours after the first game, it strikes me that it’s asking a lot of part-time players to play two such big games in such a short space of time, added to the fact that it gives the clubs virtually no time to get the tickets printed and arrange for the sale of those tickets. In addition, both clubs have vitally important league matches this Friday.

These part-time players are now being asked to play three huge matches in the space of five days. Surely that can’t be right. Could the replay not have been held off for another week? Or even for the first week in November? Were the clubs consulted before this decision was made?

On a lighter note you probably wouldn’t have heard about the tea game.

We RTÉ Sports folk are easily amused and we had a particularly sweet tea game this Monday. The idea is that a number of Sports heads sit around a big table in the RTÉ canteen at lunchtime. When everyone has finished eating, a small paper ball is placed under one upturned plastic cup. The number of plastic cups matches the number of people sitting at the table but only one cup has the paper ball underneath.

In a clockwise fashion from the dealer (the person who arranges the cups on the table) everyone has a go at lifting a cup, and either breathes a sigh of relief if they lift an empty cup, or is subjected to jeers and general abuse if they are unlucky enough to lift the cup that contains the ball. There follows the walk of shame where the loser has to go up to the counter and buy tea for everyone at the table and also bring back a selection of chocolate bars as well.

There are a couple of regular losers.

Premier Soccer Saturday editor Ryan McCann and rugby commentator (and now RTÉ Sport overlord) Ryle Nugent have made the walk of shame more often than most, but this week we had a guest appearance from Celebrity Bainisteoir Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh (who was allowed sit at the Sports table because of her Celebrity Bainisteoirdom). It was almost inevitable after she’d said that she never loses the tea game, that she should lift the cup containing the paper ball. She had tempted fate, and fate bit back.

In fairness to Bláthnaid, she makes a great cup of tea, even if she did arrive back at the table one cup short. Her selection of chocolate was pretty boring too, but all things considered it was a good effort by the Nobberite.

MNS editor Brummie Steve is in my bad books at the moment. At half-time during the Rovers v Pat’s semi he cut up a close-up of me in the crowd yawning, which had more to do with a lack of sleep than anything to do with a lack of entertainment at Tallaght. I thoroughly enjoyed the game and the Under-11 game at the interval was also a great spectacle. It finished 1-1 but both goalkeepers made brilliant saves. Obviously being shown yawning is a bit embarrassing, but I suppose it could have been worse.