Saturday 17 November 2018

Villain makes his Mark with penalty save

He just had to have the final say, hadn't he. Mark McNulty the Cork City goalkeeper who fuelled the ire of Dundalk fans with his ill advised and rather insulting video chant about the Lilywhites and who himself was booed throughout Sunday's final at the Aviva Stadium had the last laugh when he saved the penalty from Michael Duffy in the shoot-out that decided the destination of the FAI Cup.

Somehow it was written that McNulty would be Cork's hero, and the inevitability was not lost on Dundalk fans as extra time failed to separate the teams.

It was a heart breaking defeat for Dundalk to swallow, for they have now lost two Cup finals in successive seasons to Cork with a last minute extra time goal and on Sunday in a penalty shoot-out.

Good job a gap of three months exists before the start of next season for it is going to take time to digest the sour taste of this defeat.

The merit of Cork's win that gives them the League and Cup double will take time and the wisdom of experts to fully assess, for it saw Cork have the better of the opening half, Dundalk dominate the second while in extra time Dundalk gained the initiative they deserved with Niclas Vemmelund powerful header after 4 minutes only to surrender that advantage when fatigue caused them to retreat in an effort to protect that lead with the almost inevitable consequences.

Unquestionably Cork, buoyed by the confidence they gained from clinching the League title, caught Dundalk by surprise in the opening exchanges for not only did they match the intensity that they brought to their game in all previous meetings between the sides this season but they moved the ball with precision and purpose, forcing man of the match, Gary Rogers into some smart saves, and causing a certain amount of panic in Dundalk's defence as they struggled to cope.

It took the best part of half an hour for Dundalk to get a foothold in the game and while they always threatened to open the left of the Cork defence and had a few worthy attempts on goal it was Dundalk who were relieved that the first half ended scoreless.

The second half was a total contrast as Dundalk started to impose their passing game on the League champions, but while they totally dominated the possession statistics they lacked the penetration to carve out any decent chances with David McMillan far too isolated throughout and much of Dundalk's best football played in front of the fortified a Cork defence that was seldom exposed.

Having to take the game to Cork as they did for most of the second half took a heavy toll on the Dundalk players, a number of whom were just back from long injuries for the team clearly ran out of legs in extra time and were hanging on for the draw after Cork equalised with ten minutes of extra time remaining.

Of course it will be argued with some justification that Stephen Kenny's refusal to sacrifice his footballing principles to beat Cork somehow contributed to this failure to beat the Leesiders in their last six meetings (including last season's Cup final) but that cannot fully explain their failure to match the intensity of Cork's early dominance or to exhibit the sharpness in their passing that is their hallmark and was needed to open the well marshalled Cork defence in the second half.

Perhaps Cork's manager, John Caulfield deserves more credit then he gets from Dundalk supporters for he clearly has sussed out a way to beat Dundalk and while it may not be pretty and at times his central defenders don't care into which row of the stand they boot the ball it gets the team the result they seek.

The annoying aspect from Dundalk's viewpoint is that having had to work so hard and on a day in which they didn't produce their best that they were unable to hold onto the decisive lead goal that they had to work so hard to find.

Failure to protect that lead can be attributed to poor defending to allow a simple ball over the top at such a late stage in the game, and fatigue with Dane Massey, just back from a long injury, and having to play 120 minutes unable to get out quickly enough to catch goal scorer, Achille Campion offside.

Brian Gartland's head injury just before the end of normal time was crucial to the outcome for it denied Dundalk the organisation he bring to defence, and denied his manager the opportunity to introduce another badly midfield substitute with fresh legs in midfield in extra time that Cork were able to introduce as Robbie Benson, Stephen O'Donnell and Patrick McEleney, who had a good game,were clearly flagging.

The penalty shoot-out, as all such deciders are, was always going to be a lottery and once it started it was always going to be McNulty who had the last laugh.

The Argus