Dundalk end 12-year wait for silverware with victory over Shamrock Rovers in the EA Sports Cup final
Dundalk 3 Shamrock Rovers 2
STEPHEN KENNY picked up his first trophy as Dundalk manager with a sweet success over his former employers Shamrock Rovers in a dramatic EA Sports Cup decider.
Oriel Park erupted at the final whistle as the locals did just enough to collect the League Cup for the first time since 1989, and end a 12-year wait for a major trophy.
They’ll be hoping to use this victory as momentum en route to a bigger prize with Kenny’s men sitting top of the league table with five games remaining.
With that season-long target in mind, they will have little time to celebrate this achievement.
Kenny’s boys made hard work of it, surviving a shaky first half to gain quick revenge against a Hoops side that knocked them out of the FAI Cup at this venue on Monday.
Rovers produced a remarkable comeback in that tie after surviving a ropey period just after the interval. They lost this game in the same timeframe following a chaotic five minute spell where Dundalk’s set piece prowess again came to the fore.
Pat Fenlon was missing goalkeeper Barry Murphy, a key man in the first meeting of these rivals this week, but sloppy defending lay at the root of their problems here.
The Louthmen had gone in level at the break, but they hadn’t really deserved to do so after a performance that slumped dramatically after they claimed a stunning fourth minute lead when Dane Massey curled a 20 yard free kick over the Rovers defensive wall and into the back of the net off the underside of the crossbar.
Rovers responded impressively, with the assurance of Stephen McPhail giving them control in midfield that contrasted with a nervous and scattered Dundalk performance in front of an expectant crowd.
With Dundalk panic evident, the challenge for the Hoops was to step up and punish it. Just before the half hour mark, they did so when a Massey error led to a corner that was eventually converted from close range by Jason McGuinness.
Already, the natives were looking for the comfort of the half-time whistle with a Pat Hoban shot from a Sean Gannon break the only fluent move they really put together prior to the interval. Rovers continued to beaver away, although they didn’t keep deputy Dundalk keeper Gabriel Sava too busy.
Kenny, who had stuck to his word and favoured players who had contributed to cup efforts, made an important change at the halfway point by introducing regular midfield enforcer Chris Shields for Keith Ward.
That simple switch gave Dundalk a much better foothold in the game and, significantly, their lead goal came from the pressing of the previously subdued Richie Towell. That created the 47th minute Daryl Horgan corner that Massey rose to convert.
Buoyed by the turnaround, Dundalk struck again. And, after talking in the preliminaries about the need to defend the border outfit’s dead balls more efficiently, Fenlon will be furious that another corner was the source.
This time, Ruaidhri Higgins delivered, Rovers players got in each other’s way thanks to some Dundalk cleverness, and the alert Hoban slipped into the free space to nod the ball accurately beyond Craig Hyland
That left Dundalk with a cushion that seemed unlikely during their earlier struggles, and they initially went looking for more before, inevitably, dropping backwards as the game entered its final quarter.
Fenlon sent in Ciaran Kilduff to bolster his forward options and it paid off when he reduced the deficit with another header; McPhail provided the assist as Dundalk argued that a throw in the build-up was wrongly awarded to the visitors.
That set up a grandstand finish, with Towell missing an opportunity that would have eased the home fans’ anxiety.
Instead, it was backs to the wall for the conclusion with Kenny sending in first choice centre half Andy Boyle for the final minutes as a group which he constructed from scratch upon his arrival in the winter of 2012 saw it out to get their hands on the precious silverware.
Dundalk: Sava, Gannon, Gartland, Rossiter [Boyle 85], Massey; Ward [Shields 45], Higgins [Mountney 79], Towell, Horgan; McMillan, Hoban
Shamrock Rovers: Hyland, Madden, McGuinness, Kenna, Byrne; McPhail, Cregg; Waters [Kilduff 69], Finn [McCabe 74], O’Connor; Sheppard [Kelly 79]
Referee: G Kelly [Cork]