Cork City found a new, even more dramatic, way to win the FAI Cup this year as they completed the league and FAI Cup double on Sunday,
For the third year running, extra time was apparently needed to separate these two sides. In a new twist, however, even that wasn’t enough as it took penalties to separate the teams this year after a 1-1 draw at the end of extra time.
It seemed that Mark McNulty’s chanting last week had given this tie (and indeed this rivalry) a whole new layer. The Dundalk fans in attendance had made sure to greet the Cork City goalkeeper at the beginning at both halves.
Not that a rivalry and an occasion such as this needs much of a preamble. Cork City and Dundalk have been competing for the same trophies for nigh-on four years now, so it stands to reason that any match where the two compete has the required needle well in advance.
The Premier Division champions shaded the opening proceedings as they put a number of balls into the box that just failed to find their target. The flanks were a source of joy for the City wide men (as well as striker Karl Sheppard) in the first few minutes, Dundalk were almost caught as early as the seventh minute when an air-kick from Niclas Vemmelund nearly put Sheppard clean through.
A more open affair than the cagey two finals we had previously witnessed between these two, there were chances at both ends with Sheppard producing a reaction save from Gary Rogers, and Michael Duffy and David McMillan testing McNulty in the City goal.
Dundalk had grown into the game as the first half wore on, and started the second half in a similar vein as a scramble in the Leesiders’ box produced a bit of panic before eventually being cleared.
Stephen Kenny’s side began to boss possession but, despite the introduction of Dylan Connolly, struggled to create much against a City defence that remained resolute. City, for their part introduced Kieran Sadlier to proceedings to try and unlock the Lilywhites’ rearguard but it had largely the same effect.
In the end it seemed like extra time was an inevitability, but not before the biggest moment of drama arrived in normal time. The ball flew around Dundalk’s box and after a number of ricochets, Alan Bennnett acrobatically guided the ball towards the net only for Rogers to claw it out just as it looked like City had struck late in this fixture yet again.
The opening goal, when it did arrive, went Dundalk’s way. Vemmmelund, who recently announced that this would be his last match for the Oriel Park side, thought he had departed on a high by giving his side the lead, rising highest to meet a fine delivery from Duffy’s free-kick.
John Caulfield’s response to this was to replace Buckley and Gearoid Morrissey with Greg Bolger and Achille Campion, indicating a more direct style for the remaining 20 minutes or so.
Predictably, City began to force the issue that bit more after, and Campion was to prove to be an ispired sub when he broke the Dundalk offside trap, displayed brilliant chest control and turned to fire the ball past Rogers to level it up with eight minutes remaining.
And so, with the teams unable to be separated even by extra time on this occasion, we went to the uncharted territory of a penalty shootout.
As if to ramp up the drama that bit more, both sides converted each of their opening three penalties, before McNulty broke the deadlock by saving from Michael Duffy. Sadlier had the chance to win it from the final penalty of the five, and he duly converted to ensure that the cup would be staying on Leeside for another year at least.