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David McMillan hat-trick and Sean Hoare extra-time strike break Rovers' resistance to bring FAI Cup back to Dundalk

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Dundalk captain Chris Shields lifts the FAI Cup at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dundalk captain Chris Shields lifts the FAI Cup at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dundalk captain Chris Shields lifts the FAI Cup at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

THE START of the 2020 season was ignited by a five-goal thriller in Tallaght which provided evidence that Shamrock Rovers were the new top dogs of the League of Ireland.

It ended with a six-goal spectacular in favour of Dundalk to serve as a reminder that they haven’t gone away.

In doing so, they dashed Rovers double dreams and their hopes of going an entire campaign unbeaten.

Stephen Bradley, condemned to the stands due to a touchline ban, will be left wondering how his team wobbled from a position of power.

Below, his opposite number Filippo Giovagnoli celebrated the latest chapter of his remarkable 2020, a victory that was heavily influenced by players who do not even know if they have a future with the Lilywhites.

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Hat-trick hero David McMillan of Dundalk celebrates with the cup. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Hat-trick hero David McMillan of Dundalk celebrates with the cup. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Hat-trick hero David McMillan of Dundalk celebrates with the cup. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

That includes Dave McMillan, who bagged a hat-trick in a game he was only starting because of an injury to Patrick Hoban.

He came to life as Dundalk appeared to be struggling towards defeat with the old guard finding another level with the finishing line in sight.

Chris Shields was immense, a sweet moment after suspension robbed him from contributing to the 2019 decider.

He’s suffered tough times at the hands of Jack Byrne this year but got the last laugh in what is likely to be the Ireland international’s final game as a League of Ireland player.

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Time will tell if this match has significance in terms of next year’s league campaign.

This will depend on the idiosyncratic approach of the club’s owners.

But as the Dundalk squad celebrated, wearing T-shirts in honour of the beloved Harry Taaffe who tragically passed away in the summer, you sensed they were willing to put any strife aside until Monday morning at least.

The absence of fans and a rare decision to turn off the sound system meant that the Aviva Stadium was deathly quiet just before the teams emerged from the tunnel.

Every Irish sporting occasion is a seriously diluted version of its old self and this was no different.

It will never feel normal.

Still, there was a certain familiarity about the pattern of the first half with scoring chances thin on the ground.

It didn’t help that a pitch Jack Byrne later described as a "joke" was badly cut up after the rugby endeavours 24 hours previously, although this was always going to be a likely price to pay for staging the game in Dublin 4 at short notice.

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Dundalk interim head coach Filippo Giovagnoli lifts the Extra.ie FAI Cup. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Dundalk interim head coach Filippo Giovagnoli lifts the Extra.ie FAI Cup. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Dundalk interim head coach Filippo Giovagnoli lifts the Extra.ie FAI Cup. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Dundalk’s European adventure had resulted in rotation in the build-up to this fixture and, in keeping with the system, Rovers looked more sure of themselves for large spells.

Giovagnoli stuck with a back three, meaning that both sides were deploying a similar system, with a lone striker supported by two creative players with two more midfielders behind them.

This became central to the pattern of play. Dundalk’s attacking duo were Michael Duffy and Patrick McEleney, with the latter prominent early in some decent patches for the Louth side. But they found it harder as the game progressed, Jack Byrne and Graham Burke increasingly influential for Rovers.

They were also ably supported by the industry of Dylan Watts and Aaron McEneff operating from deeper and they were having more of a say in the game with the ball at their feet than Shields and Greg Sloggett.

Yet for all that, this allowed Bradley’s charges to wrestle control of the match, it was through dead-ball situations that they really turned it into chances.

Graham Burke came closest to an opener before the interval with an excellent left-footed free kick that drew a fine stop from Rogers.

But the league champions stepped things up a notch from the restart, despite the upheaval of losing Joey O’Brien to injury at the break.

He had kept a firm eye on the subdued Duffy, yet Bradley had made a big call to leave out Lee Grace – with Irish U-21 international Liam Scales favoured – thus meaning there was a high quality replacement available.

Grace made his impact with the decisive flick on that led to Greene’s breakthrough effort with Dundalk’s zonal marking leaving the front man unguarded at the back post with Daniel Cleary drawn to attack the ball.

The cliché around these games is that the first goal tends to win it, but this game wouldn’t go that way.

Rovers remained on top in the immediate aftermath but as normal time entered its final third, Dundalk stepped things up without really tweaking their system.

They levelled as Rovers just allowed the intensity to drop a bit and allow Shields to play the ball out and open up the pitch. He was involved twice in the move that culminated with a superb near post finish from McMillan.

Rovers were shellshocked and the pain was enhanced instantaneously as Dundalk forced a corner and Rob Harvey adjudged that Scales had pulled down Cleary in the box. A contested call, but McMillan finished emphatically.

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Roberto Lopes of Shamrock Rovers heads to score his side's second goal during the Extra.ie FAI Cup Final match between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Roberto Lopes of Shamrock Rovers heads to score his side's second goal during the Extra.ie FAI Cup Final match between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Roberto Lopes of Shamrock Rovers heads to score his side's second goal during the Extra.ie FAI Cup Final match between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Yet Dundalk’s advantage was short-lived as Rovers immediately got back from another corner with Roberto Lopes soaring highest to convert.

Sterile domination had been replaced by an end-to-end affair and both could have nabbed the win as the match became stretched. Duffy became prominent as space appeared.

Rovers got the orders to the bench for a treble sub to freshen things up with Greg Bolger and Daniel Lafferty, two players that are expected to leave the club, called in. Lafferty’s cross was inches away from creating an injury-time winner.

And that will sit with the Rovers group in their reflections.

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David McMillan of Dundalk celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Extra.ie FAI Cup Final win over Shamrock Rovers. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

David McMillan of Dundalk celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Extra.ie FAI Cup Final win over Shamrock Rovers. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

David McMillan of Dundalk celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Extra.ie FAI Cup Final win over Shamrock Rovers. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Dundalk used extra-time to showcase the depth of their squad with Jordan Flores making a real impact and adding assurance to midfield, while Shields began to dominate physically with no evidence that Thursday’s exploits in Norway had taken the edge off.

If anything, they grew stronger as the minutes elapsed although it was a twist of fate that led to the lead goal as an injury forced Brian Gartland off to be replaced by Rovers target Sean Hoare.

The newcomer arrived for the second period of extra-time to put his side ahead with the aid of a fortuitous deflection off Scales. Rovers had given away a soft free in the build-up.

They had to go searching for the equaliser, yet Dundalk were able to soak up the pressure and hit the Hoops on the break to wrap things up with Flores and Dan Kelly combining for McMillan’s stunning coup de grace.


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