Great­est Dun­dalk team of all time

DOU­BLE DE­LIGHT FOR LI­LY­WHITES

The Argus - - SPORT - JAMES ROGERS

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.

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