Mac magic seals fourth straight cup final
Dundalk 1 UCD 0
Dundalk have a double in their sights after seeing off UCD at Oriel Park on Friday night to book their place in the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup final for a fourth straight year.
A moment of magic from Patrick McEleney four minutes before half-time decided what was a cagey affair for the league champions-in-waiting.
With a 12-point lead and goal difference of plus-25 with just four matches to go, Stephen Kenny's side can wrap up their fourth Premier Division win in five seasons with a point at home to St Patrick's Athletic on Friday. They can also look forward to a cup final against either Bohemians or holders Cork City on November 4th after seeing off the Students in a hard-fought affair.
Sometimes you can take success for granted but the Dundalk public have been absolutely spoiled in recent years by what have become annual end of season trips to Dublin 4. There has been some heartbreak in recent years but another double would be a magnificent achievement for a side who could break all kinds of records this season.
Getting there was probably more difficult than many would have anticipated but a third big game in seven days was always going to take its toll both mentally and physically while UCD showed just why they won the First Division with such plaudits.
It was largely one-way traffic in the opening half with Collie O'Neill's visitors passing it well without actually registering a shot at goal.
Despite this the home side were struggling to create chances of their own with early efforts from Dane Massey, Brian Gartland and Pat Hoban failing to find the target and McEleney seeing his mazy run and shot on 16 minutes being blocked by Josh Collins.
Dundalk then perhaps had a let-off four minutes later when Daniel Cleary escaped with just a yellow after lunging in on Conor Davis. The general consensus was that a red would have been more worthy.
That incident aside there was something of a lull about the game in the opening half hour or so before Dundalk began to turn the screw in the build-up to half-time.
Firstly, Chris Shields flashed a shot wide before the Lilywhites had penalty appeals turned away after Sean Gannon went down in the box. Liam Scales was then called into action in the 40th minute to make a superb block to deny John Mountney.
The breakthrough finally arrived a minute later though with McEleney ghosting past a number of UCD players before rifling a right-foot shot high to the top left hand corner, giving Conor Kearns no chance.
Dundalk threatened to add to their lead on the restart with Massey's corner almost creeping in only for Kearns to punch it away from under his bar before Gartland hooked the rebound over. Michael Duffy had another effort moments later but on this occasion Dan Tobin managed to block.
Having weathered the storm, the First Division champions began to grow in confidence and almost drew level on 57 minutes with their first attempt at goal. Fortunately for Dundalk, Gary Rogers was able to get down well to his left to claw Gary O'Neill's free kick around the post.
There were a couple of efforts after that but the best of these, from Neil Farrugia, was straight at Rogers.
Hoban had a couple of chances after that which Kearns spilled but neither were into the net.
That allowed the Students to continue to push forward deep into stoppage time but they lacked the firepower to force a replay even if a superb stop from Kearns to deny Hoban in stoppage time meant that this was never really comfortable until the full-time whistle blew.
It soon did and another final was suddenly on the cards.
After the most heartbreaking defeats imaginable in 2016 and 2017, Dundalk want the cup back this year.