MICK COOKE IS looking forward to pitting his wits against an unfamiliar face when Drogheda United meet Shamrock Rovers in Saturday’s EA Sports Cup final (kick-off 5.45pm).
In a brilliant season which has seen Cooke’s Drogheda defy pre-season expectations by challenging for the title and a place in Europe, the Hoops have been their bogey team. Under former manager Stephen Kenny, Rovers won all three league meetings between the sides, scoring seven goals and conceding just two.
“Stephen had the Indian sign over me,” Cooke admits but that wasn’t enough to save Kenny’s job. He was sacked last week, a full stop which cut his Rovers reign short after less than nine months.
The Hoops have turned to a man with Premier League experience on his CV, bringing in former Burnley boss Brian Laws as director of football until the end of the season. Cooke hopes that it might bring about a change in his own fortunes.
“Hopefully with Brian coming in, I can get one over on him,” he tells TheScore.ie.
It’s his first game incredibly — a manager’s first game in a cup final. It will be very, very interesting to see what way he approaches it. Is he going to be safe or will he send Rovers out to try and win it or will he be more cautious?
He’s only going to have a week to work with the players, but with his experience I’m sure he’ll be well organised, as we will be.
Saturday’s final comes hot on the heels of cup misery for Drogheda, who crashed out of the FAI Cup on penalties against St Patrick’s Athletic on Monday.
There were a few bowed heads in the dressing room afterwards but Cooke takes a much broader view of the matter and knows that a shot at silverware is the perfect way to bounce back.
“We’d a long conversation after the game. Psychologically to lose on penalties is hard to take, but it’s easier than if we had lost in extra time. That would have been a hard blow for us to take.
“What better way to bounce back than in a cup final? If players can’t get themselves fired up to play a cup final, against Rovers, in Tallaght, they shouldn’t be playing football.
“You have to get on with it. Life goes on, irrespective of what disaster happens. I remember losing the play-off with Monaghan out in Bray and I went in and I said to the players that if this the hardest thing you have to face in life, you’re going to have a great life. There’s no life lost.
After [Monday] night, I said the exact same. It’s a disappointment. There’s no one sick and no one has been killed. You just have to go and bounce back, and I think as a group of players, Drogheda have proved we can bounce back. We’re not going away.
On a personal level, Cooke has a his own selfish reasons for wanting a cup win. Finals haven’t always ended well for him, he explains, but there’s still room on the mantelpiece for a different kind of medal.
“I think between St Pat’s and Drogheda I’ve lost about six cup finals — FAI Cup, League Cup, All-Ireland Cup, I’ve lost all the finals I’ve been. That’s a lot of losers’ medals so I’m due a winners’ one some day.”