Wednesday 21 February 2018

Gartland gutted but insists Lilywhites will bounce back

Dundalk's Brian Gartland in action against Cork City's Seán Maguire. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dundalk's Brian Gartland in action against Cork City's Seán Maguire. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Dundalk's dream of a double-double - winning the league and cup in successive seasons - ended in nightmare fashion for stalwart defender Brian Gartland and the hordes of fans from 'The Town' who thronged the Aviva Stadium in their thousands yesterday.

Gartland was the unlucky player whose effort to block a goal attempt by Cork City's Sean Maguire in the last minute of extra-time turned into a video nasty that was imprinted clearly on his brain.

Dundalk had fought a dogged battle of the heavyweights with challengers Cork for two hours.

They had displayed massive courage and tenacity to overcome the effects of their Europa League trip, and battling defeat, against Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday.

They dominated the first-half and made a number of chances, rallying in the later stages of the second-half and in extra-time to try and gouge a breakthrough goal that would retain the FAI Cup.

And then, it happened. Football, as in 'football, bloody hell' - a quote made famous by Alex Ferguson - plucked a disappointed, rejected player of 2015 out of the hat and made him the hero for Cork City in 2016.

Twelve months ago Sean Maguire sat in the stand as his then employers Dundalk consigned John Caulfield's side to the losers' medals category. Twelve months ago Brian Gartland danced a jig of delight as he claimed a winner's memento.

This time - complete reversal. Maguire the hero. Gartland the unhappy player who unwittingly and unwillingly, played a part in making Maguire's day, and his year. Maybe even his career.

It hurt, but typical of his no-nonsense approach, Gartland fronted up to the media and talked through the tiny window of time that decided the blue riband of Irish soccer.

"Everyone that started, everyone that came on was exceptional," he said. "It's hard to take when you dominate a game like that and lose to, I suppose, a scrappy goal."

The details are etched clearly on his brain. "I go to block him. To me it looked like he leaned in to Finner (Ronan Finn), and took Finner's standing leg.

"He spins to shoot. I go with my left leg to block him, and I don't think he catches it clean, either.

"I think it hits the inside of my heel or calf, and spins off the other way, slow motion, you know?

"It's one of those ones I'd prefer to miss it and it rolls to Gary (Rogers, goalkeeper). That's football.

"Not a nice feeling, and something we haven't had for the last two or three years. I think the Setanta Cup (in 2014) was the last final we lost. This team's had knocks over the season, the Sligo game, Cork earlier in the year.

"We've got great characters all through the team and the squad, so we always bounce back and that's what we'll do as usual," he said.

Manager Stephen Kenny looked crestfallen at the final whistle, but the hardened professional in him had no time for excuses about the travelling to Russia, or the crazy schedule that brought his team to their 52nd game of the season.

Kenny planned for everything to do with St Petersburg, where Dundalk came so close to snatching a point against Zenit on Thursday, and also for the return to Ireland and recovery for the cup final.

He could not say it, he would not say it, but really, Dundalk could have done with at least another three days of recovery.

An FAI that wants to raise the profile of its domestic league should find a way to accommodate champions who perform way above their station in Europe.

It didn't happen. Kenny, his players and the backroom staff have played the cards they have been dealt, and have done so in impressive fashion.

To say Kenny was deflated was understating the emotions.

"Yeah, yeah, that goes without saying. To lose it in the last minute of extra-time, obviously, we're very disappointed with that. That would be the over-riding feeling alright," was his first reaction.

Elaborating on his assessment of the occasion, Kenny paid tribute to his players. "We certainly looked the more likely to win it in extra-time even though it was such a gruelling trip, to play Thursday night and then get back.

"It was a monumental effort by the players and they pushed themselves to their absolute limits physically. That's the way it goes, you have to take the good with the bad.

"Cork are a good team and don't concede many goals and they obviously have an attacking threat.

"Obviously they got the late goal, just a throw-in in added time in extra-time. It's a tough one to take for us but that's the way it goes," he said.

Irish Independent

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