With their Premier Division status guaranteed for next season, fans of Sligo Rovers now have an FAI Cup semi-final to look forward to. And, boy do they love the cup in Sligo.

On five occasions, they have lifted the famous trophy – three of those successes have come in this decade. Before that, there was much heartache on final day, with supporters cursing no shortage of misfortune and refereeing decisions that went against them.

All, that, however, made their breakthrough victory against Bohemians at a sodden Dalymount Park in 1983 all the more sweeter. Harry McLaughlin’s superb curling effort, a thing of beauty that nestled in the top corner of the Bohs net. Cue wild celebrations.

Sligo were rank outsiders going into that final 36 years ago on the back of a dreadful league showing where they finished third from bottom. Indeed, 11 of the 12 League of Ireland managers back then confidently predicted a win for the Gypsies.

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Ahead of this Sunday’s semi-final at the Showgrounds, there no doubt would be a similar confidence that Dundalk will have enough to get past the Bit ‘O Red. The Lilywhites, after retaining their Premier Division title, will be keen to add another FAI Cup win to their collection.

Sligo, for their part, have had a so-so season to date. Yes, victories in the league over this weekend’s opponents, Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians have been high points, but out from that there hasn't been too many moments where the side has made us stand up in awe.

In fairness, not many expected them to enthrall. Liam Buckley arrived in as manager with the remit of steering the club clear of any relegation scrap and providing a platform where Rovers could look upwards again.

Speaking  ahead of the semi-final, Buckley emphasised the point that this season is just the first step on a journey.

 "You will see improvement in us in the future because of the work we have done this year and you'll see it for the rest of this season and next season.

"We will be better for some of the stuff we have worked on."

Sligo’s recent form has seen them win five out of their last six games in all competitions; not a bad time for them to be showing some promise. 

Sligo's David Cawley (r) celebrates with team-mates after scoring the second goal v UCD in the quarter-final 

On the importance of maintaining a winning thread, their manager added: "I just like winning. I like the thoughts of winning. I like that everyone now is thinking 'can we win?' in big games.

"It is that expectation that I want in the dressing-room. That drives you on. You need to be organised, driven, fit, supporting each other, all of that dynamic. If you get that you'll have a great chance of winning stuff.

"It is nice to have this important game and all that comes with it. It is just another game in the season from our point of view. It's an important one, don't get me wrong. It would get us to the Aviva which would mean so much to so many people at our football club."

Sligo and Dundalk last met in the Showgrounds on 2 September - with the latter winning 2-0 

As the date with Dundalk gets nearer, Buckley is bullish that his side can deliver something special against the best team in the land.

"We will have our game plan, it's a one-off game. We can't afford to think this is something where it can be easy at any point over 90 minutes. We have to limit them. They will get chances, no doubt about that. 

"They are a top team, they retained their players this year and brought in one or two to strengthen up and I'm sure they'll do the same next year.

"They are at a slightly different level to where we are at, along with Shamrock Rovers as well. Those two clubs would have greater resources. That said, we'll have XI out on the night and if our players are organised collectively and driven, we'll give ourselves a chance.

"We are going to have to put in a shift but we have to believe we are going to do it. I do believe we will do it and we have to have a mentality across the board to say 'let's get at it'. Dundalk have 23 or 24 players, they could put out two teams where either team would be in the top three here, if not winning it.

"That is where they are at. The cup is on the day. You need a bit of luck which I've had myself over the years. Hopefully we get it on the day."

A packed Showgrounds crowd of over 4,000 will be present to see whether they get that luck and more. 

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