Ten and a half years after his last appearance at the Aviva Stadium as an Irish player, Damien Duff will return as manager on November 13 after Shelbourne dug deep to book their place in the FAI Cup final.
On a balmy afternoon in Waterford, the former Ireland international took an early lead and kept control to see off their in-form hosts, who struggled to get a glove on their Premier Division visitors.
They had a late shout for a penalty which caused some consternation in the home ranks, yet the appeals on the pitch and in the dugout were reasonably muted and referee Rob Hennessy was satisfied that Gavin Molloy, the winner’s scorer, did not commit. a handball offence.
It means Shels go through to face Derry City in the decider, a game that will pit Duff against Ruaidhri Higgins, a backroom colleague in the early days of Stephen Kenny’s tenure as Ireland manager.
However, there is no love lost between the respective sides as Duff’s comments on the Derry wage bill caused a stir in the wake of a recent league meeting at Tolka Park.
Duff has built a team with a strong work ethic, and it showed here when it mattered.
In driving wind and rain, it was the away side who controlled the ball and their emotions better in the opening quarter and they completed it by taking the lead.
Duff’s side maintained solid form with two midfielders, Mark Coyle and JJ Lunney, sitting in front of their back three with the wing backs providing width. Matty Smith and Shane Farrell roamed to provide support for central striker Sean Boyd. Waterford, on the other hand, were slow out of the blocks and sloppy when it came to tracking the runs and movements of red shirts.
There may be some mitigation for the concession as Blues midfielder Roland Idowu struggled with an injury that would end his involvement in the passage, with Smith given the time and space to turn in midfield and slot the ball in behind the vulnerable Tunmise Sobowale with his left wing back Molloy finds the bottom corner with a superb first-time finish. Molloy has established himself as a central midfielder, but he was a threat here in unfamiliar territory.
Waterford were rocked by the concession with veteran centre-half Alex Baptiste, who played Premier League football against Duff while at Blackpool, saved by keeper Paul Martin after Sean Boyd seized a tame clearance. Luke Byrne also hit the woodwork from a corner, with Waterford limited to pot shots in comparison.
Shels would have expected a stirring second half from the locals, who had knocked out St Patrick’s Athletic and Dundalk on their way to this stage, running the legs out of the latter in a thriller at this venue. However, the Reds did not allow Danny Searle’s side to get into a rhythm and the 5,000 strong crowd were given no cause for optimism as Shels defended sensibly with the influential Phoenix Patterson and Junior Quitirna kept at arm’s length.
Patterson was more involved but John Ross Wilson performed manfully and there was always a covering centre-half ready to intercept if the Scottish winger broke free, while young Stephan Negru grew into the role. The best chance of an equalizer came from a set-piece with Patterson’s free touched by Clarke, but it failed to bring the Blues to life. Rather, it prompted Shels to double down and book a big day out in Dublin 4.
Waterford: Martin, Tunmise Sobowale, Cantwell, Baptiste, Power; O’Keeffe; Quitirna, Idowu (En Neyah 18), Griffin (Taylor 70), Patterson; Ouch
Shelbourne: Clarke, Negru, Byrne, Griffin; Wilson, Coyle, Lunney (Dervin 87) Molloy; Farrell (Moylan 62), Smith; Boyd
Judging: Rob Hennessy