FAI Cup final
Dundalk take their chances:
A day with more drama, perhaps, than the previous three finals between these sides; certainly more goals in the 90 minutes and a cracker from Patrick McEleney in the closing stages to seal another double for Dundalk.
On the balance of play Cork City cannot have too many complaints. It was a valiant effort by John Caulfield’s men but, though they held their own for the most part, it was difficult to see where a winner was going to come from. They are entitled to wonder how things might have turned out had Neil Doyle shown Chris Shields a second yellow two minutes into the second half for a late challenge on Jimmy Keohane and there was a half decent penalty claim late on for Graham Cummins.
For all that, though, Dundalk edged it and if Michael Duffy had squared it for Pat Hoban instead of shooting late on when City were chasing the game and overcommitted, the margin of victory would have been that bit wider.
The closest they came to forcing yet another final into extra-time was when Kieran Sadlier’s long range effort was deflected and Gary Rogers did really well to push the ball over and, though they kept chasing the equaliser they needed, it wouldn’t come. Their final throw of the dice was from a free five minutes into added time which Barry McNamee delivered well to the far post but the ball wouldn’t quite fall in the way required and as the Dundalk defence got it clear Doyle signalled that they had done enough.
The opening stages were, as they always seem to be when these two meet in this game, far more disjointed with a succession of stoppages preventing either team from settling into any sort of real rhythm. Received wisdom has it that that would be to Cork’s benefit but Caulfield’s side couldn’t claim a monopoly on the physical side of the early exchanges here with a couple of their attempts to break forward brought to a sudden stop.
Either way, it was a frustrating opening quarter of an hour with John Mountney’s missed header from close range the only chance of note. Michael Duffy had provided the cross for that and the ability of Conor McCarthy, in for the injured Steven Beattie, to deal with the northerner was clearly going to be a big factor in the game. For the all the early feistiness in and around the centre circle it was the 20-year-old right back who earned the game’s first booking when he sought to prevent his man getting forward to join in an attack that suddenly had City looking stretched.
By then the sides had exchanged goals with Sean Hoare at the heart of an eventful two minute spell. His goal was a shining example of how to put a header away from a corner with the central defender timing his run and jump to perfection; much better anyway than Mark McNulty who came but got nowhere near the ball.
Almost from the restart the defender was sort of suckered after finding himself in a tussle with Karl Sheppard. The striker looked unbalanced once but there was nothing much in it and he did well to get himself between the ball and his marker again.
That looked to be about the extent of his ambition really but it was enough; Hoare made an attempt to get around him and play the ball but he failed to make contact with anything but the player. Kieran Sadlier converted the penalty to become the first player in 44 years to score in every round of the cup but it was close run thing with Gary Rogers clearly agitated at having guessed right but not got down quite fast enough.
It was a much better game after that though not a brilliant one. Sheppard chased everything that came his way, which was not an awful lot, while Gearóid Morrissey and Garry Buckley led the way as City out their pressing game into full effect. It worked for them in term of frustrating their opponents and McCarthy continued to do particularly well on Duffy but they found it harder to create much in the final third themselves.
Brian Gartland had a header cleared off the line by Shane Griffin in the immediate aftermath of the two goals but it was well into the second half before there was another scoring opportunity that was anywhere near so clearcut. An Alan Bennett error almost let Hoban in and Sean McLoughlin was there to clear when McNulty could only parry a flicked Robbie Benson header.
McEleney’s was another thing altogether though, with Sean Gannon’s sensational cross teeing the midfielder up to wrongfoot the goalkeeper who still got a hand to it but couldn’t do more than take the sting off it as it flew into the net.
Kenny hailed the scorer as a “special talent afterwards”. This, they had shown us once again, is clearly a special team.
Patrick McEleney rises above the Cork City defence to head home the winner for Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.