Danilo Orsi is savouring a very different FA Cup experience to his early career after starring in Grimsby’s giant-killing run.
Eight years ago, Orsi was playing for Cockfosters in the preliminary round, going down 6-3 to Waltham Abbey to see their cup run ended before September had arrived. He reckons around 30 people turned up to watch.
On Wednesday, in front of a considerably larger crowd at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium, the 26-year-old led the line for Grimsby as they recorded their most famous cup win for generations, knocking out Premier League Saints and landing a first quarter-final place since 1939.
Next up will be top-flight high-flyers Brighton, but for a striker who was playing college football in the United States as recently as 2018, high-calibre opponents simply means a chance to spring an even greater upset.
Orsi, who won the Mariners’ second of two penalties on the south coast for Gavan Holohan to step up and score, did not take the route familiar to his team-mates and League Two peers.
“I never had the experience of academy football,” he told the PA news agency. “I was just playing in Sunday league, then I had the opportunity to play in America.
“In 2014 I was playing in the first preliminary round in front of almost no one. Now I can say I’m a quarter-finalist. It’s what dreams are made of.”
The penalty he won in the 49th minute with the score 1-0 against Saints was so unusual even he did not see the award coming. With the ball in the goalkeeper’s hands, defender Duje Caleta-Car inexplicably swung an arm into the back of Orsi, who went to ground.
A moment of madness from the Croatian was a stroke of fortune for the Mariners. Holohan converted for his second of the game, and Grimsby were not about to pass up the unlikely opportunity that had fallen into their lap.
“The second penalty was very strange,” said Orsi. “I thought it would be maybe a booking or a sending-off. I thought he was a bit late, he’s tried to claim he didn’t see me when he turned, though you clearly see on the video he’s looked at me. I was so confused by it all I didn’t know what to expect.
“A silly and cheap way to give away a penalty from their point of view. But when you’re playing against a Premier League side, you’ll take anything we can get. If that’s what they’re going to give us, we’ll take it.
“If you had to pick (an opponent) from the Premier League at the current moment I think we would have picked Southampton. But in the same breath, they are a top-tier side.
“They’ve got a central defender (Caleta-Car) who’s played 100 times for Marseille. They’ve got Theo Walcott, James Ward-Prowse. Wounded or not, you never think you’re in with a chance.
“The disallowed goal (from Walcott) 10 minutes from the end, that’s when I really thought this is it, we’re going to do this. We’ve got it.”