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Darragh Burns shines as St Pat’s see off Dundalk to book place in FAI Cup final

St Pat’s 3 Dundalk 1

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Darragh Burns of St Patrick's Athletic, left, celebrates with team-mate Ian Bermingham

Darragh Burns of St Patrick's Athletic, left, celebrates with team-mate Ian Bermingham

Darragh Burns of St Patrick's Athletic, left, celebrates with team-mate Ian Bermingham

FOR St Patrick's Athletic, a win that was celebrated with the belief this might be the start of a new era. For Dundalk, a defeat that might just signal the end of one.

Their failure to qualify for a seventh successive FAI Cup final closes the most viable route for a return to European football with a player exodus inevitable amid ownership uncertainty.

Insult is added to injury by the fact that former Oriel favourite Stephen O'Donnell is now trying to recreate the Dundalk success story at his new workplace.

His side are far from the finished article and they were second best for spells here but passing the test of character should do wonders for their progression.

The majority of the 5,000 fans packed into the stadium roared their approval at the end, feeling that days like this might start to become the norm again following a period of wilderness.

There's a youthful feel to O'Donnell's group driving that, characterised by the brilliance of 19-year-old winger Darragh Burns, a thrilling winger in the process of switching allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic, who delivered an assist and a goal in a composed second half where the natives showed tactical flexibility to win the day.

With the expectant crowd on top of the players, and fireworks from the respective sets of spectators causing temporary delays, this match had a proper big game feel from the outset.

Tension can sometimes affect the entertainment levels but on this occasion it added to it.

Within a minute, there was a flavour of what was to come with the home crowd on edge as Michael Duffy teed up Will Patching for a shot on target. When Dundalk broke, their attacking quality was obvious and the Saints had to negotiate a few nervy moments in the opening quarter hour with Sean Murray twice threatening.

O'Donnell had switched to a flat back four with Lee Desmond at right full tasked with shackling Duffy, while he went with a fluid enough forward set-up with Billy King, Matty Smith and Chris Forrester rotating in the early minutes. Burns was the constant threat on the right flank, a driving run and shot seemed to inject confidence into the Saints play.

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Yet the lead goal was a story of Dundalk mistakes, a theme of the season with Greg Sloggett's slip and weak pass seized upon by King with that Dundalk centre halves too deep to react and goalkeeper Peter Cherrie then guilty of allowing a tame enough shot slip under his body. The Saints were alive, and Ian Bermingham almost doubled their advantage after a flowing move.

But an unfortunate slip by 17-year-old centre half James Abankwah just before the interval drained their momentum with Patching capitalising on a sloppy piece of control and releasing Patrick Hoban who lashed home his ninth goal in nine games. Abankwah was booked shortly afterwards and didn't return for the second half. He's good enough to bounce back.

Desmond was switched inside with Jak Hickman assuming Duffy duties, and there were a few nervous moments down that side before history repeated with the hosts striking when Dundalk weren't expecting it.

They gave away possession cheaply and an instinctive through ball from Burns to release Smith in behind Dan Cleary was gratefully received and dispatched with a stunning right footer.

Dundalk were up against it now - angry that Jamie Lennon escaped a second yellow for a late challenge - and Perth rang the changes in search of a response with O'Donnell reverting to a back three for the final quarter. The earlier sharpness in the Lilywhites passing was lacking, and they were running out of ideas when a long range Patching volley was tipped acrobatically over the bar by Liverpool keeper Vitezslav Jaros.

It was a key moment, as Dundalk piled bodies forward in vain, leaving themselves vulnerable to the counter that killed the tie with the brilliant Burns displaying maturity beyond his years to dink the ball over Cherrie and set up a night of celebration.

St Patrick's Athletic: Jaros, Desmond, Barrett, Abankwah (Hickman 45), Bermingham; Lennon (Benson 64), Lewis; Burns (Griffin 88), King (Coughlan 77), Forrester (McClelland 77); Smith

Dundalk: Cherrie, Dummigan (Jurkovskis 76), Cleary, Boyle, Leahy (Ben Amar 86); Sloggett (Kelly 71), Stanton; Murray (McMillan 76), Patching, Duffy; Hoban

Referee: Neil Doyle


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