David McMillan double sees Dundalk into FAI Cup decider
Shamrock Rovers 2 Dundalk 4
Dundalk may be about to relinquish their League title in the coming weeks but they have given themselves every chance of winning back the FAI Cup as they advanced to their third consecutive final after edging a pulsating replay that required extra time.
Stephen Kenny's side will renew their rivalry with Cork City in another Aviva showdown but they had to come from behind to seal their passage.
Shamrock Rovers' Ronan Finn and Michael O'Connor had threatened to come back to haunt their former side with two goals in normal time but when the ever-reliable duo Dave McMillan and Stephen O'Donnell popped up with crucial goals in the second period of extra time, the two teams were eventually separated.
This was an enthralling contest that had everything and those who were in Tallaght Stadium last night were treated to yet another brilliant advert for the League of Ireland. Somehow it wasn't televised which felt like another big missed opportunity to showcase it.
McMillian and Robbie Benson had cancelled out Finn's earlier opener before O'Connor's late header sent this remarkable contest into extra time.
In McMillan, Dundalk posses the kind of threat that Rovers desperately crave and he scored the crucial goal in extra time before another old boy O'Donnell settled the contest with a quality header with eight minutes left.
Stpehen Bradley spoke earlier this week about his side improving their temperament following nine red cards this season, but the Hoops manager lost his when he needlessly got involved with O'Donnell on the sideline during extra time.
But O'Donnell had the last laugh as he glanced home the insurance goal to send the travelling contingent into raptures and the home fans for the exits.
The Lilywhites could have been 2-0 up before Rovers opened the scoring against the run of play as Dylan Connolly and Michael Duffy went close.
Having soaked up the early pressure, Finn broke the deadlock after 10 minutes but it came from from a free that justifiably incensed the Dundalk bench. McMillan was penalised for a foul on Simon Madden when he looked for all the world that the full-back had kicked the striker's leg.
From the resulting free, Dave Webster launched a hopeful ball into the box from inside his own half and when Dundalk failed to clear their lines, it dropped kindly Finn who sent a sumptuous volley into the far corner.
But barely two minutes later the visitors were level and this time it was Rovers' turn to fume as Tomer Chencinski flapped at a Sean Gannon cross, which left the unmarked McMillan the easiest of tasks to nod home for his 21st goal of the season.
Just as it looked like Dundalk would assume control, Rovers grew in confidence and should have retaken the lead but Trevor Clarke blasted over.
Rovers were less than convincing from crosses all evening and it was their undoing again seven minutes after the restart. Duffy's corner caused panic in the box and when Brian Gartland flicked the ball on, there was Benson with another simple tap-in.
Chencinski had a mixed game but he kept his side in the game on the hour mark with two fine saves.
Rovers were on the ropes and just as it looked like Dundalk would land the knockout blow, the hosts dug deep and grabbed the equaliser with eight minutes of normal time remaining and it was another one of Dundalk's former players that did the damage as Clarke's superb cross was met by O'Connor who sent a thumping header past Rogers. Cue pandemonium.
The Hoops might have won it late on but Rogers was equal to Madden's drive. And so we went to extra time.
The mass melee involving both benches then followed and when Rovers' fitness coach was sent to the stands, ironically his side ran out of steam.
As penalties loomed, McMillan showed his quality again when he reacted quickest inside the box to send Dundalk on their way. Five minutes later O'Donnell sealed the deal with a brilliant looping header and boy the did he enjoy it.
Another mouthwatering clash against Cork lies ahead – thankfully that one will be shown on TV.
Shamrock Rovers – Chencinski; Madden, Grace, Webster, Byrne (King 70); Lopes (O'Connor 80); R Connolly (Doona 59), Finn (capt); Miele, Clarke; Shaw.
Dundalk - Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Vemmelund (Grimes h/t); O'Donnell (capt), Benson; D Connolly (Stewart 67), McEleney, Duffy (Shields 107); McMillan.
REF – P McLaughlin (Donegal)