DONCASTER Rovers manager Sean O'Driscoll has described progress in the FA Cup as 'not very important' ahead of tonight's third round replay at Wolves.
O'Driscoll's stark admission confirms a growing reality that the oldest Cup competition in the world is rapidly losing its appeal to the vast majority of Championship clubs.
Amid growing pressure to avoid relegation and balance the books financially, O'Driscoll would rather win next Saturday's league game at Ipswich Town than spring a shock tonight at Molineux.
Rovers are currently enjoying a third successive season in the second tier of English football after an absence of 50 years. Although beaten 3-0 at home by Reading last weekend, they remain closer to the play-off zone than the bottom three.
Asked how important the FA Cup was to Rovers ahead of tonight's game, O'Driscoll said: "If you said we could get to the semi-final of the FA Cup, I would take it – but I would rather win at Ipswich on Saturday than win against Wolves so I suppose, in that sense, it's not very important."
O'Driscoll, ironically, hails from the Black Country, grew up supporting Wolverhampton, and still has relatives who hold season tickets at Molineux. Yet there was no hint of 'Cup magic' in the air as O'Driscoll looked ahead to tonight's game.
"Just because I grew up in the town, it doesn't mean anything for me at this particular time," he said. "Tears wont be welling up in my eyes and my heart won't be in my mouth. I have been back a few times to watch games."
He insisted that the game was not a 'distraction' for either club, however, and believes Wolves manager Mick McCarthy is likely to resist any temptation to field a weakened side.
"I don't think it's a distraction. It's part and parcel of what makes football in England unique," O'Driscoll said. "Mick will play his first team, players who are all part of his first team squad. He can't afford to let it slip in the Cup (just) because it's a game against lesser opposition.
"They have got a home draw again in the next round (against Stoke City or Cardiff City) so they can see them(selves) progressing to the latter stages," he added.
"Any Premier division team must see themselves getting to the latter stages if they get a good draw. Once you get there, it breeds confidence and interest, a buzz about the place which, if you're savvy as a manager, which I think Mick is, he will transmit to confidence and use that to improve league form as well."
Wolves were narrowly beaten by high-flying Manchester City last weekend – their only game since being held to a 2-2 draw by Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium 10 days ago – yet remain next to bottom of the Premier League.
O'Driscoll expressed his admiration for McCarthy, saying: "It is a difficult place to manage because there is a high expectation among the Wolves supporters. I know that because my family are season ticket holders. It is their team – as it is mine in some senses – and they are like typical supporters and think he should be doing something different.
"But he's kept them in the division and, in the form table, they are about third or fourth. It's never going to be easy for teams like Wolves to establish themselves in the Premier division but staying there the first season was a great achievement. It will go down to the wire again and, if they are still in there fighting at the end of the season, I wouldn't bet against them."
O'Driscoll is looking for a positive reaction from his players tonight after reviewing parts of the Reading performance yesterday to discuss how things went wrong.
"I am not really looking forward to going back (to Wolves) if we play like we did on Saturday," he admitted. "You want to take a side there that will go and compete and do all the things – regardless of whether we win, draw, or lose – that we set out to do over 90 minutes. If we do the things that we need to do and have done for the vast majority of the season, we will be in there fighting or we will walk off the pitch saying we have ticked all the boxes we need to tick, but they are just a better team than us!"
Injury problems in midfield have prompted O'Driscoll to move into the transfer market to sign former Leeds United youth player Paul Keegan from Irish club Bohemians until the end of the season.
With both Brian Stock and Simon Gillett injured, Keegan will increase competition for the midfield holding role, subject to international clearance, but will not be involved in tonight's game.
"It's an opportunity for him and we can have a good look," O'Driscoll said. "With Simon and Brian out, it made sense to bring in another midfielder and, financially, it's something we can do quite easily."
Keegan, now 26, was released by Leeds in 2005 but took his career back to his native Ireland and played initially for Drogheda before moving to Bohemians two summers ago and making 66 appearances in the League of Ireland Premier Division.
On-loan Rovers defender Matthew Kilgallon is ineligible for tonight's game and on-loan Joseph Mills is doubtful due to a knee injury suffered at the weekend.