Greatest Dundalk team of all time
DOUBLE DELIGHT FOR LILYWHITES
WE knew some time ago that this Dundalk side is special. Now they can rightly lay claim to being the club’s greatest of all time.
A second double in four seasons has seen manager Stephen Kenny move level with the great Jim McLaughlin on eight major honours at Oriel Park. The fact that Kenny did so in a shorter period of time with a Europa League group stage qualification in between means this side can rightly stand head and shoulders above the many other greats who have graced the club down through the years.
It’s impossible to compare eras, of course. The game has changed much over the years and even the current Dundalk side has evolved gradually since Kenny took up the reins six years ago this month. Nevertheless, for the consistent level of success, style of football and energy they have brought to the town, this side deserve their legendary status.
We may only fully appreciate them in times to come but for now it’s good to just enjoy the journey because what a ride it is. While old rivals Cork City may see a few changes of the guard over the winter, this Dundalk side is just building up.
Much was made of the Peak6 investment in Dundalk by John Caulfield in the build-up to the game and how it had made it difficult for the rest to compete but as things stand the Americans are guys who have bought a Ferrari but yet to take it for a spin.
We’ll only see their true impact in time but one thing they have allowed is stability. The bulk of this year’s squad are signed up for next season, meaning there’s a chance to build on this success. The last time Dundalk did the double in 2015, minimal changes meant they created even greater history in 2016. That will now be the aim next season when seeding for the first round of the Champions League gives them the very real prospect of having a real crack at Europe again.
That is for another day, of course, but Sunday was part of a stepping stone in what is a relentless drive for honours from both players and staff.
The league will always be the primary aim but there’s something significant about the FAI Cup. It’s the big day out, the big occasion and after the heartbreak of back-toback defeats in the last two finals, there was a real want and desire to go one better this time around.
Monday’s homecoming event in the Market Square was happening regardless of the outcome at the Aviva but it would have felt a little empty had the second trophy not been on display.
While Dundalk were deserving winners though, they were pushed all the way by a Cork side who would have won far more in just about any other era.
In the end, football was the winner though despite the Lilywhites never really hitting the heights that they are capable of.
A lot of credit for that was down to Cork’s tactics. It may not be pretty to watch but the pressing game of Caulfield’s side meant it was difficult for Dundalk to find any real rhythm.
Match winner Patrick McEleney might have ended with the man of the match award but for long spells he was like a golfer in need of a new caddy to help with club selection as almost every pass attempted was either over or under hit.
Perhaps nervous of the threat going the other way, neither full back really got forward and up front Pat Hoban wasn’t even getting scraps to live off.
The brilliant thing about this side though is that they are always a threat, even when not at their best. That meant it was no surprise when they took the lead on 19 minutes.
Sean Hoare made a great run from the back post, losing Sean McLoughlin in the process, to leap highest to head home Michael Duffy’s corner.
It was a dream start but the dream was to turn sour just two minutes later.
With the adrenaline still pumping through his veins from the goal, Hoare made the cardinal error of giving away a penalty at the other end. The contact on Karl Sheppard was minimal but, like most things on the day, the Cork City attacker made the most of it and Neil Doyle pointed to the spot. It was a challenge that Hoare didn’t have to make and it allowed Kieran Sadlier to step up and slot just under the unfortunate Gary Rogers to level things up at one apiece.
Chances were few and far between after that but Dundalk did almost immediately retake the lead on 22 minutes when another Duffy corner was met by the head of Brian Gartland, who was unfortunate to see his effort headed off the line by Shane Griffin.
Perhaps Cork’s best chance of a lead goal came on 34 minutes when they broke on the left with Sadlier crossing to the inrushing Garry Buckley at the edge of the area. He hit his first-time effort sweetly but Rogers managed to keep it out before gathering at the second attempt.
The feeling amongst supporters at half-time was that Dundalk had further gears to find but deep in their thoughts too was that this fixture had gone to extra-time in each of the last three seasons and many were bracing themselves for that again.
Six minutes after the restart and the first chance of the half fell Cork’s way. Sheppard lost Sean Gannon to get his head to Sadlier’s corner but he couldn’t direct it on target.
After registering their first attempt from open play on 56 minutes – a wayward strike from Duffy – Dundalk began to find their rhythm.
On the hour mark a long range effort from Dane Massey dipped just over Mark McNulty’s cross bar while soon after the Cork keeper was forced into his first real save when he pushed Pat Hoban’s left foot shot around the post following a mistake by Alan Bennett.
Then came the game’s big moment on 73 minutes. Griffin Pictures: Sportsfile
was caught in possession by Jamie McGrath, who did well to work the ball wide to Gannon. His cross was exquisite, allowing McEleney to race onto it without checking his stride to powerfully head past McNulty, who couldn’t keep it out despite getting a hand to it. There were scenes of joy after that but last year’s defeat showed you can’t take a lead against Cork for granted.
Caulfield threw on Graham Cummins and Cian Murphy in an attempt to rescue the game and there were, unsurprisingly, chances at either end.
The first came Dundalk’s way on 77 minutes when Duffy’s corner was met by the head of Massey but unfortunately for the left back his effort was straight at McNulty.
Sheppard then looked to be in on goal three minutes later but was penalised for a foul on Massey before firing wide anyway.
Cork’s pressure grew as the clock ticked down and they had a half chance on 88 minutes when Sheppard whipped a ball in from the right. Hoare, now playing at right back following Gannon’s
Dundalk players celebrate on the pitch after clinching the FAI Cup at Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
Top scorer Pat Hoban lifts the Cup.