Wednesday 18 July 2018

'League champions by seven points and we are f***ing underdogs?' - Cork show guts to take double glory

Dundalk 1 Cork City 1 - Cork City win 5-3 on penalties

Cork City’s players celebrate as captain Alan Bennett lifts the FAI
Cup. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork City’s players celebrate as captain Alan Bennett lifts the FAI Cup. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There was a goal from a Dane and a Frenchman, but the key moment of this FAI Cup final was delivered by a local hero.

Cork's cup, Cork's season, and proud Corkman Mark McNulty in the right place to propel the club he loves towards a first Double in their history.

Mark McNulty of Cork City celebrates saving a penalty. Photo: Sportsfile
Mark McNulty of Cork City celebrates saving a penalty. Photo: Sportsfile

It was inevitable that the 37-year-old would end up in centre stage - sans microphone - to make the key save from Michael Duffy in a high-quality penalty shoot-out that allowed Kieran Sadlier to dispatch the winning kick.

The goalkeeper's speeches after last year's Cup triumph and this year's league success had riled the Dundalk camp, but he emerged to have the last laugh. And, while he stressed that no harm was meant in his "F**k the Lilywhites" chant 10 days ago that infuriated Stephen Kenny, he says he took pleasure from the reaction.

Bites

"When the pressure is on him, he bites," said McNulty, "He felt the pressure this week because he bit straight away."

The veteran puts his frustration down to years of hurt and the feeling that Cork haven't got the credit they have deserved - a line that was repeated by John Caulfield and most of his players. Just consider a selection of the post-match comments...

Mark McNulty of Cork City saving a penalty to win the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Mark McNulty of Cork City saving a penalty to win the game. Photo: Sportsfile

Steven Beattie: "We lost Seanie (Maguire), Kev O'Connor and Johnny Dunleavy, but went all the way. I think a lot of people were shut up today.

"We won the league with three games to spare, but we are still s***e because the boys left, our style of play's not good enough. That drove us on 100pc. Those lads didn't kick a ball in the Cup run."

Conor McCormack: "Every pundit and every journalist, never gave us a chance all season."

Karl Sheppard: "For winning the league, people pat us on the back and say we crawled over the line."

Gary Rogers of Dundalk following his side's defeat. Photo: Sportsfile
Gary Rogers of Dundalk following his side's defeat. Photo: Sportsfile

And, from McNulty, the money line: "Listen, all you have to do is look at the prices in every paper. Dundalk, what were they? Evens? Cork City, two-and-a-half to one? League champions by seven points and we are f***ing underdogs?"

The victors are unlikely to enjoy any analysis of this affair, which must focus on the fact that Dundalk were on top for lengthy spells, especially the second half of normal time.

But it takes character to deliver trophies. The last Cork team to go searching a double (2005) got caught up in the hype around league celebrations.

This group showed character under fire and the fact they bounced back to take this trophy will cement their legacy. Caulfield's bunch have showed the mental strength to fill trophy cabinets.

The simple story of 2017 is that they played Dundalk five times and didn't lose once. That is the bottom line.

It appeared likely that would change when Dane Niclas Vemmelund marked his final game for Dundalk with a 95th-minute header to break the deadlock.

That was deserved on the balance of play as Dundalk had taken control after the interval. Cork were bright early and Dundalk-bound Karl Sheppard - who was enraged by any suggestion his mind would be elsewhere - forced two stops from Gary Rogers.

"People questioned my professionalism, which wasn't on," he said.

Kenny's charges created half chances, but they were lethargic at times. They stepped it up after the switch of ends, although Cork kept a solid shape and centre-half partners Alan Bennett and Ryan Delaney were not stretched; as McCormack outlined afterwards.

"They had a lot of the ball, but they didn't really do too much with it and we were happy enough with that," said McCormack, a Louth lad who is looking forward to his visits home in the coming weeks.

He had a point, too, as Patrick McEleney dropped deeper and was sat next to Stephen O'Donnell and Robbie Benson for long periods.

Benson forced a stop from McNulty, who was booed throughout by Dundalk's fans, yet the main contribution from a goalkeeper came at the other end in stoppage-time, when Rogers acrobatically kept out Garry Buckley's close-range attempt.

That would have been highlighted as a crucial moment if Dundalk had gone on to glory courtesy of Vemmelund, but the league champions responded with a double switch, bringing in Greg Bolger and a second striker in Achille Campion. Sadlier, subdued to that point, was able to roam and become slightly more prominent.

Blasted

Dundalk did lose Brian Gartland and then McEleney to injury, but it was a botched offside trap that caught them, with Sheppard's chip finding Campion, who blasted beyond Rogers.

As penalties neared they were the stronger side, a contrast from the last two finals when Dundalk looked physically better as the game wound down.

Yet when it came to the crunch, it was a test of nerve and Cork's execution was sharper. Sheppard, Bolger, McCormack, and Beattie did their bit before McNulty shut out Duffy and Sadlier finished the job.

"These are a phenomenal bunch of boys," said Caulfield. "I just said to them afterwards 'As a group of players you'll never be together again. You need to look around and remember these are the guys you've done the Double with.'

"History will look back on this team and see what they did - winning the first 21 of 22 games, losing our goal scorer and captain (Dunleavy) and realise this was a phenomenal team, one of the best teams in the league maybe ever'

Caulfield accepts players will leave. Delaney's loan from Burton is up, Bolger is off to Shamrock Rovers, Sheppard will be with their arch rivals, while Beattie could also have played his last game in City colours. That is the circle of League of Ireland life.

Next year, the challenge for Dundalk and others will be to knock Cork off their perch. They've certainly enjoyed the process of getting there.

DUNDALK: Rogers, Gannon, Gartland (Hoare 90), Vemmelund, Massey; O'Donnell, Benson; McGrath (Connolly 71), McEleney (Mountney 108), Duffy; McMillan

CORK CITY: Mc Nulty, Beattie, Bennett, Delaney, Griffin; McCormack, Morrissey (Bolger 97); Keohane (Sadlier 56), Buckley (Campion 97), Dooley; Sheppard

REF - P McLaughlin (Donegal)

Irish Independent

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