Chances of a thriller are pretty slim as bit­ter ri­vals square up in third suc­ces­sive Cup fi­nal

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT -

ANY box­ing pro­moter keen to hype up a so-so bout would be de­lighted if the com­bat­ants pos­sessed the dis­like Dun­dalk and Cork City feel for each other. To­day’s FAI Cup fi­nal is a real grudge match be­tween two sides whose ri­valry has taken on a keen per­sonal edge.

In the run-up to last year’s fi­nal, fuel was added to the fire when footage emerged of Cork ’keeper Mark McNulty lead­ing a chant of ‘fuck the Li­ly­whites’ as City cel­e­brated their league ti­tle vic­tory. Dun­dalk’s post-de­feat tweet, “In foot­ball you don’t al­ways get what you de­serve. To­day, the bet­ter team lost,” in­di­cated an equal dis­dain for the more Corinthian side of sport­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

These pub­lic out­bursts merely con­firmed the gen­eral sus­pi­cion that the usual plat­i­tudes about two fine teams be­ing full of re­spect for each other don’t ap­ply in this case. The pre­vi­ous year there had been an un­mis­tak­able peev­ish­ness about Cork’s com­plaints that they were ig­nored be­fore the fi­nal be­cause ev­ery­one was mak­ing a fuss over Dun­dalk’s Euro­pean ex­ploits.

Prox­im­ity may be the main con­trib­u­tor to the ten­sions be­tween two teams who’ve be­gun to re­sem­ble feud­ing neigh­bours fed up of liv­ing in each other’s pock­ets. Four sea­sons on the trot they’ve filled the top two places in the league. To­day will be their third suc­ces­sive Cup fi­nal meet­ing. Small won­der that their games tend to be close and tetchy af­fairs. Fa­mil­iar­ity has bred con­tempt.

Dun­dalk’s league tri­umph seems to prove they’re eas­ily the bet­ter of the two teams. Record points and goals to­tals made it as im­pres­sive a cam­paign as the League of Ire­land has seen. To­day they’ll seek to em­u­late the feat of Sligo Rovers in 2010 by win­ning the FAI Cup with­out con­ced­ing a goal.

Yet Cork also have the chance to reach a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone to­day by be­com­ing the first side since Sham­rock Rovers in 1987 to com­plete a hat-trick of fi­nal wins and the only club apart from the Hoops, who won five- and six-ina-rows in ear­lier decades, to do so.

Can this be the third con­sec­u­tive sea­son that

Cork find re­demp­tion on the fi­nal day of the sea­son? Two years ago Seán Maguire’s last-gasp goal took some of the gloss off Dun­dalk’s in­cred­i­ble sea­son. Last year Cork might just have won the league ti­tle but the way they stum­bled over the line meant they were again the ones who had some­thing to prove in the de­cider. They did so and were, what­ever Dun­dalk said, the bet­ter team and de­serv­ing win­ners of the shoot-out.

The stakes seem even higher for City this time af­ter a sea­son when they were clearly sec­ond best to Dun­dalk. There’s been an air of frus­tra­tion about man­ager John Caulfield (pic­tured) all sea­son which man­i­fested it­self most clearly when he was sent off dur­ing the home loss to Dun­dalk that ef­fec­tively saw Cork sur­ren­der their ti­tle. Caulfield’s com­plaints last week that Dun­dalk are “buy­ing play­ers that they don’t really need be­cause they want to mo­nop­o­lise it .

. . if a team in­vests heav­ily and buys all the best play­ers of course they’re go­ing to win,” seem like an ef­fort to fur­ther raise the tem­per­a­ture in ad­vance of the fi­nal. They look likely to make a Dun­dalk team, al­ready fired up by the mem­ory of the vil­lain­ous McNulty’s match-win­ning shoot-out saves last year, even more de­ter­mined to avoid an­other anti-cli­mac­tic end to the sea­son.

I’d love to pre­dict a flow­ing match per­fectly suited to the fi­nal’s role as do­mes­tic soc­cer’s big show­piece oc­ca­sion. But the past three de­ciders have been sur­pass­ingly dour af­fairs, pro­duc­ing just four goals in six hours of foot­ball. There are play­ers, Pat Hoban, Michael Duffy and Pa­trick McEleney for Dun­dalk, Gra­ham Cum­mins, Kieran Sadlier and Garry Buck­ley for Cork, who could en­liven any match but chances of a thriller are pretty slim.

On the other hand, who doesn’t en­joy watch­ing a game be­tween two teams who hate each other?

With City ap­par­ently poised to cut back fi­nan­cially in a ma­jor way next sea­son, this might be the last great show­down in this most fe­ro­cious of ri­val­ries.

Who­ever wins to­day will feel really good about it. Vic­tory is sweet­est when the ri­valry is bit­ter.

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