The night Irish eyes smiled on Sheffield United and Alan Kelly in FA Cup quarter-final clash against Coventry - on St. Patrick's Day

Irish eyes smiled on Alan Kelly and Sheffield United on this day in 1998 – a remarkable FA Cup quarter-final win against Coventry City, on St. Patrick’s Day.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 11:39 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 11:47 am
Alan Kelly celebrates one of his penalty saves against Coventry - Mark Thompson/Getty

Kelly was the toast of Bramall Lane after a hat-trick of saves in the penalty shoot-out saw them progress to the semi-final stage for the first time since 1993.

Five years earlier, Kelly was in inspired form as United lost narrowly to their city rivals Wendesday at Wembley. There was something about the FA Cup that seemed to bring out the best in the Republic of Ireland international and under the lights at Bramall Lane, Kelly wrote himself further into United folklore.

"To make a hat-trick of saves in a tense penalty shoot-out takes some beating," Kelly smiled. "But for it to happen to a proud Irishman on St Patrick's Day takes some beating."

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This was the season United looked like they were going to implode from within. With United well-placed to compete for promotion to the Premier League, their influential strike duo Jan Åage Fjørtoft and Brian Deane were both inexplicably sold.

Manager Nigel Spackman, who had earned rave reviews for assembling a United squad packed with talent that played in an attractive, front-foot manner, then resigned, and their season looked like it could fall apart.

But, under caretaker Steve Thompson, United went all the way to the FA Cup semi-final, where they lost to Newcastle United at Old Trafford. They booked their place there thanks to Kelly's heroics, as he saved from Dion Dublin, David Burrows and Simon Howarth.

Wayne Quinn stepped up to hammer United into the semi-finals and Kelly was chaired from the Lane pitch as a hero. He remembers that two fans tried to take off his boots; they were tied on so tight that Kelly’s ankles were almost dislocated.

"I was in the mood for a celebratory drink after the match," Kelly added, "but that idea was a non-starter.

"It was St Patrick's Day but all the pubs had shut so I couldn't get a pint! I ended up having a cup of tea instead and going to bed."

United's penalty kick heroes Wayne Quinn (left)and Alan Kelly - Steve Ellis

This weekend, United travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea in this season’s FA Cup quarter-finals.