From zero to sligo hero

'Keeper Kelly admits Cup penalty shoot-out heroics make up for 2009 defeat

Aidan Fitzmaurice

FROM ZERO to hero. In his own words, that's how Sligo Rovers goalkeeper Ciaran Kelly sums up the journey he made in the past 12 months -- a journey completed in supreme style in front of 36,000 fans in Dublin yesterday.

For only the third time in their history, Sligo Rovers FC are the FAI Cup holders. Only the second-ever penalty shoot-out in the history of the competition, but the dramatic finale to the final was also historic as Kelly became one of their rare goalkeepers who saved every single kick sent his way in the shoot-out.

One hundred and 20 minutes couldn't separate Shamrock Rovers from Sligo Rovers so it came down to penalties, and while the Rovers of Sligo scored two of theirs -- Dubliners Eoin Doyle and Gary McCabe scoring against a team from their native city -- the Hoops saw all four of their efforts saved by Mayo man Kelly.

"To save one penalty is good, to save four is something you couldn't dream about. There was always going to be just one hero, either Alan Mannus or I. There's going to be a hero or villain in these situations," added Kelly, who understood what was going through the mind of his counterpart, Mannus.

"The goalkeepers' union has to be kept going. When we were going off to celebrate I put out my hand to console Alan. I just said to him that only one of us could be the hero, he had done well throughout the game. Alan is a top keeper, I got lucky," Kelly said after his heroics.

"On Saturday we did some work on penalties after training and the only one I did save was from (assistant manager) Gerry Carr, his was the last penalty and that's the truth. So I had a bit of luck yesterday and, of course, this makes up for losing the final last year."

It's a huge turnaround from his mood a year ago as Kelly was a reluctant architect of Sligo's demise in last year's Cup final -- his team led 1-0 in the final against Sporting Fingal but Fingal got back into the game when Kelly gave away a penalty and they went on to lose 2-1.

"This is a much happier place than where I was this time last year. From zero to hero," said Kelly, with a well-earned bottle of beer in his hand as the Sligo players began two days of celebrations which will go on with another party back in Sligo tonight.

"But credit goes to the team as we defended well for the 120 minutes before that. We should have won the game 2-0, Alan Mannus made a great save in the first half. Cup finals are there to be won and lost, we lost ours last year but we won it this year.

"People say to me well done, that I saved four penalties, but there was 120 minutes of intense football before that. I don't know what I was like to watch but, from where I stood, it was a good game of football. We try to do things a bit different, we try to get the ball down and pass it about when it's on offer. You can't do that in every situation but we try to play as much football as we can.


"When you have players like Joey Ndo and John Russell, Gary McCabe, they are so comfortable on the ball that it's a joy to play with them," added Kelly.

"For the people in Sligo and for the town, this is huge. They are the best fans in Ireland, they are great at home and they travel with us for away games. It's great for the club to be able to reward them with something."

Kelly was not as busy as Mannus during the 120 minutes that came before the drama of penalties, as Sligo did dominate the first half after some good early pressure from the Hoops.

Mannus made his first good save of the day on 18 minutes to deny Romauld Boco, and after that he had close shaves from Sligo skipper Danny Ventre and defender Gavin Peers, the westerners' match-winning hero in the semi-final.

Kelly made a stunning save to keep out a Gary Twigg

chance on 53 minutes but Sligo threatened again and again, Gary McCabe almost netted the opening goal on 56 minutes and Boco and Alan Keane were also major threats for the eventual winners. Save of the day came from Kelly four minutes from time when Gary Twigg came close to opening the scoring, but nothing could separate the sides in 90 minutes.

Sligo gained an advantage in extra time when Stephen Bradley was sent off for a second bookable offence, but for only the second time in the competition's history, penalties were needed -- and Kelly then earned hero status to avenge his trauma of last year's defeat.