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Waterford line up against Longford Town for the 2004 FAI Cup Final at Lansdowne.

There are some things in life that hurt the most. If you're a football fan you've certainly experienced as much heartbreak as you could possibly handle supporting your beloved club. The Blues have been blessed with many moments of joy and elation, but also despair and depression. Possibly top of that list would be the 2004 FAI Cup Final against Longford Town. 20 years on and boy does it still hurt! If you are of a nervous disposition or can't handle your heart shattering into pieces again then stop reading now!

On the 23rd of July 2004, the Blues took the field against Sligo Rovers to open the FAI cup campaign. Don Riordan’s struggling first division side had nothing to lose that night at the RSC, as all the pressure would be on United. That said, the Blues were on song with of course Daryl Murphy in double figures for the season and the Blues striker came up trumps again with both goals in a 2-1 defeat of a Sligo Rovers side who scored from the penalty spot.

This would lead to a clash with Kilkenny City AFC.  Ger Bickerstaffe’s ‘Cats’ had sprung somewhat of a surprise in beating Bray Wanderers away from home 2-0 so would be relishing a crack at the Blues when they met in the RSC. Everything was going to plan when Murphy celebrated his call-up to the under-21 squad, by putting Waterford ahead midway through the half but within six minutes Keith Maher equalized and then Kilkenny City had the cheek to take the lead! Neil Andrews shooting the visiting City in front on 35 minutes. But crucially for Alan Reynolds Blues, they scored two goals in three minutes courtesy of Willie Bruton to take a half-time lead of 3-2. And that was just the first half! The second half was a harsh lesson for Kilkenny City as Daryl Murphy and Willie Bruton hammered in a couple of goals each to finally give Waterford a resounding 7-2 defeat of their near neighbours.

Only one non-league team would make it through to the quarter-finals and Waterford would draw them in the shape of Cork outfit Rockmount. On paper it should have been a straightforward passage to the semi-finals but it certainly was not as the Munster Senior League side went 2-0 ahead. Looking at a shock cup exit, the Blues got going. On 72 minutes, Daryl Murphy’s cross was turned into his own net by Rockmount’s Paul O’Brien. The Blues would lay siege to the Cork goal with Willie Bruton then bringing the game level at 2-2. However, the real drama unfolded with virtually the last kick of the game.

After three successive corners, Pat Keane (brother of Roy) finally scored for Rockmount deep into injury time only to see Dublin referee Mr. Whelan disallow the goal. Everybody at the ground could honestly not work out why the goal had been disallowed as it looked perfectly legitimate. It was a huge let off.

The replay five days later at Turners Cross was just as tight. The Blues took the lead via Willie Bruton but Rockmount levelled with 13 minutes left though it looked as if Waterford goalkeeper Dan Connor had been fouled. The Waterford players had surrounded referee Alan Buttimer who then gave Vinny Sullivan a red card for dissent. Two minutes into injury time the Blues launched one last attack when Ken Coleman drove the ball to PJ Banville and the 19-year-old shot beyond the dive of Derek Slattery to give Waterford United a 2-1 win.

Waiting for them in the last four would be Derry City at the Brandywell. And Waterford made a superb start when a mistake by Clive Delaney saw Daryl Murphy score. 1-0 to the Blues after just seven minutes of play. The dreadful conditions did not help as both sides tried to adapt to the rain-soaked pitch. Derry City would level the game a mere five minutes later when Davy Byrne scored from distance. But a sensational end to the first half was about to unfold.

 A shot from Willie Bruton was needlessly handed by Paddy McLaughlin which gave Waterford a penalty. Blues goalkeeper Dan Connor came up to fire the spot kick home to put the Blues ahead. Derry City were then reduced to ten men when Gareth McGlynn was red carded for a two footed lunge on Mark Clifford. The Blues game management was superb after that and saw out the match to qualify for their first FAI Cup final since 1986 to the absolute delirium among the Blues faithful in the stadium and those watching at home.

Standing in Waterford’s way of only a third ever FAI cup would be Longford Town. Alan Matthews’ men were the current FAI cup holders though they would finish beneath the Blues in the Premier Division league table.

On the day a poor crowd of 9,676 attended the game at Lansdowne Road. Waterford would line up: Connor, Whelehan, Frost, Breen, Purcell, Reynolds, Carey, Mulcahy, Quitongo, Bruton and Murphy. Part of the trouble with such a low crowd would be a 49 game unbeaten Arsenal playing away at Old Trafford against Manchester United. Many Longford pubs chose to show that Premiership shoedown on their TV as opposed to watching Town trying to retain the trophy they had won a year earlier. The timing of the FAI Cup Final seems stupid but with Sky's ever-changing schedule it was unfortunate that both games clashed.

To be frank the first half was nothing to write home about. Rather boring some might say. Longford Town would be slight favourites: the Blues with the weight of 24 years of history on their shoulders. Should the Blues win, it would create a whole new set of heroes to finally stand tall against the majestic 1980 side. Many who witnessed Brian Gardner's 22nd minute goal against Saint Patrick's Athletic in Dalymount where in Lansdowne for this game. The nerves in 1980 for them would be easily replicated in this match. Football? The things it can do to a grown man or woman!

Then, just past the hour mark, Willie Bruton became the first Waterford player to score in an FAI Cup Final since a certain Brian Gardner back in 1980 when he ran onto a Daryl Murphy knockdown to rifle the ball past Stephen O’Brien. One hand on the cup?

But then the Blues seemed to retreat. The strain of 24 years hanging over their heads they seemed happy to soak up the pressure that Longford would put them under. With four minutes left it looked as if Waterford would be able to see the game out.

Then came possibly the most disastrous three minutes in the history of Waterford Football Club. With the proverbial one hand on the cup, Longford Town were given a way back into the match by the most extraordinary circumstance. It had started with a throw-in on the left side of the pitch. Some Waterford players stopped as at that point there were two balls on the field of play. Surely play would be stopped. But they waited for a whistle that did not come. Then ex-Waterford stalwart Alan Kirby picked up the ball and drove a brilliant effort from just outside the box that beat Dan Connor to level the game up. There was anger in the Blues ranks with players remonstrating the game should have been stopped but Mr. Feighery of Dublin waved away any protest. Astonishingly just a minute later Eric Lavine’s run and through ball was converted by Paul Keegan past a despairing Dan Connor. Longford Town 2-1 Waterford United.

And that was it. The Blues supporters looked on stunned. Longford Town retained the cup. As a stream of fans in blue and white filed out of Lansdowne Road I heard one fan say “It was on the scale of the Great Train Robbery. Even Ronnie Briggs himself would have been embarrassed”.

It was hard not to disagree with him.


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