It’s the time of year when Eamon McConigley has an extra pep in the step.
The Letterkenny Rovers manager regards the FAI Intermediate Cup as the Champions League of sorts for Intermediate teams.
A two-time winner of the Intermediate Cup from his days at Fanad United, McConigley’s latest quest in the competition begins on Sunday when Rovers host Bonagee United at Leckview Park.
“I’ve always said that the hardest part of the Intermediate Cup was actually getting out of Donegal,” says McConigley.
“If we get out of the county, it gives us a chance. It’s a big game for us.
“It’s one of our priorities, the Intermediate Cup and getting a run. But we haven’t won the League too many times either. They’re all important to us, but getting a run in the Intermediate is vital. It keeps the season going, and keeps fellas going at training and keeps the club going on the national stage.
“Hopefully we can do the business at the weekend.”
In May 2016, Rovers contested the Intermediate Cup final, but lost heavily, 5-0, to Crumlin United at Aviva Stadium.
The magical run to the final gave McConigley and his men a new feel for what the competition can do for a club and a team.
“The Intermediate is a different level,” McConigley says.
“You must put it in context: It is next to the FAI Senior Cup. That’s how big it is. That’s how far up there it is.
“You can get massive publicity for the club and for the players it’s a massive boost.
“The Intermediate can open so many doors for you, especially in the later rounds. It can get you into the Senior Cup as well and we were lucky in 2016 to get a chance to play Athlone Town. We drew down there and got a replay back in Letterkenny. It was great to see big crowds out for that game and we were unlucky.
“We were tired and the replay was just too much for us. But for young lads now, this should be the goal when we’ve already seen what can be achieved.”
For Sunday’s derby, McConigley is planning without Chris Malseed and Chris Flanagan, but has a full deck thereafter.
The Rovers manager has been encouraged by the start to the season, even if their fixture schedule has been interrupted.
“We’re more than happy with where we are,” he says. “I’d maybe have liked to sign one more player in the summer, but that player didn’t become available. I’m very happy with the squad. They’re working very hard and training very well.
“The only downside is that we’re conceding more than I’d have liked. We’re working hard on that in training. If we can do something about that we’ll be okay because we’ll score goals.”
McConigley puts much his team’s good start to their entry into the Lifford Cup. Perhaps not high on the agenda when he assembled his players for pre-season, the competition allowed them dust off the cobwebs before the Ulster Senior League season began.
He says: “Mickey Duffy mentioned it to me and initially I wasn’t sure. But it helped us ease into pre-season and, as it turned out, fellas took to it more and more as it went on. It was easier to get them out and it always will be for matches rather than training. That competition helped us big time and when they saw we had a chance of winning it, we got a big lift.”
Last season, off the back of reaching the Intermediate final, Rovers had bid farewell to the likes of Jonathan Minnock and Shane Bradley.
Others who lined out at the Aviva, like Mark Forker, Paul Boyle, Terence Shiels and Paul McVeigh are all at pastures new.
When the draw was made for the Intermediate last year, one of the ties of the opening round was Rovers’ game with Cockhill. At a soaking Leckview, Derek Doherty netted the only goal of the game and Rovers were out.
McConigley says: “We didn’t have a good start to last season. It was really disappointing to go out of the Intermediate, but we had lost a lot of experience to the team. That was one of the reasons we fell at the first hurdle.
“In the first six League games last year, we lost one and drew three so it wasn’t great. This year, we’ve started well, we’re scoring goals and we’ve added some experience so hopefully that will stand to us.
“But we know that a derby with Bonagee adds a whole lot to the game and Bonagee will be looking at themselves and thinking they can get a run too.”
Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League
Bonagee United 1 Fanad United 6
Letterkenny Rovers P-P Finn Harps Reserves
Swilly Rovers Derry City Reserves
Sunday, October 22, 2pm
Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League
Fanad United v Derry City Reserves
FAI Intermediate Cup, second round
Cockhill Celtic v Swilly Rovers
Letterkenny Rovers v Bonagee UnitedTags: