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O'Neill secures last-gasp glory for Sporting Fingal

BY the time the trophy was presented to Stephen Paisley, the majority of the 8,105 crowd had long since departed the stadium. Hordes of Sligo fans took over Tallaght for the day but, once more, it was Sporting Fingal who adopted the role as party poopers.

Liam Buckley's side eliminated Shamrock Rovers at this venue in the quarter-finals of the Ford FAI Cup and returned yesterday to score twice in the final eight minutes and break Sligo hearts.

The penalty which levelled matters was controversially awarded by referee Alan Kelly, even if there would have been split opinions if video evidence was used.

Winning manager Liam Buckley, who was belatedly enjoying cup success at the fourth attempt, still wasn't sure if Sligo 'keeper Ciaran Kelly was guilty of felling Eamonn Zayed as he tried to digest events afterwards in the manner of an individual who hadn't quite come to terms with the emotion of the turnaround.

injustice

Yet whatever small injustice Sligo felt should be dwarfed by their own culpability for switching off deep into injury-time when the busy Robert Bayly delivered a teasing cross for Gary O'Neill to complete the perfect week for a club that has completed its second season in existence with promotion and a cup victory.

"It's up there with all the bits and pieces that I have in my career," said Buckley, "From playing 25 years ago (with Shamrock Rovers) against UCD, I wasn't to know that it would be another 25 years before I'd get a medal out of it.

"I didn't know if it was going to be good luck or bad luck that the UCD team from 1984 were here today. It turned out to be good luck. Sligo probably deserved to draw, but once we scored the momentum went with us."

It was a good cup final after a slow start with Sligo, supported by the wind in the first half, taking the early initiative with Fingal taking a while to settle and unable to involve the attacking players in their 4-3-3 formation

The Dubliners gradually began to impose themselves on proceedings with right-sided attacker Conan Byrne -- who heads to Zambia today to do some community work under the Sporting Fingal banner -- twice eluding Kendrick to win free kicks in dangerous areas. He stood up to take the first one which struck the outside of the post while it was touch and go whether Kendrick's second offence occurred inside the area.

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Fingal were aggrieved then, but they had more reason to feel blue shortly afterwards when stand-in Sligo captain, Danny Ventre, handled in the box to prevent a deep cross from Colm James reaching Fingal's Shane McFaul. Referee Kelly missed the offence.

It was open fare now with Sligo's star man Raffaele Cretaro -- who conceded afterwards that it will probably be his last game for the club with Bohs and Shamrock Rovers leading the chase -- denied by a brave Lorcan Fitzgerald block when he finally got a clear sight of goal.

Earlier, Darren Quigley had burst off his line to nick the ball away from the onrushing Tubbercurry native whose pace was troubling opposition centre halves Shaun Maher and Stephen Paisley.

Level pegging at the break, then, with the rain making an unwelcome appearance at the break for those fans housed in the unsheltered temporary seating.

The extra element added to the drama with the pitch cutting up. Chances followed at both ends with a bone crunching challenge from Sligo centre-half Gavin Peers frustrating an impressive foray from Fitzgerald before Quigley's save from Cretaro was followed by a farcical goalmouth scramble where the ball got stuck in the mud with Blinkhorn and Fitzgerald both outfoxed.

bursting

Sligo boss, Paul Cook, introduced Owen Morrison who duly played a minor supporting role in their lead goal. Marauding right-back Romuald Boco, who will now take a holiday before preparing for January's African Nations Cup where he will represent Benin, takes most of the credit.

Bursting forward with purpose, he played a quick one two with Blinkhorn before finding Cretaro whose first effort struck Maher but with Quigley on the ground, the Sligo attacker, stabbed the rebound towards Eoin Doyle who converted despite the desperate attempts of Fitzgerald from behind the line. Doyle, who started the season in Tallaght as a Shamrock Rovers player, relished the moment.

Sub Owen Morrison should have doubled their advantage with a miss that in time would prove costly. Indeed, a hush fell over the large Western contingent when they lost Cretaro to injury and subconsciously dropped deeper.

Yet they found their voice again when Zayed fired wildly off target with only Kelly to beat after a superb Kelly cross. However, Buckley resisted the temptation to introduce substitutes and five minutes from time, the North Dublin club were thrown a life-line.

Rare sloppiness from Boco cheaply gave Fingal possession and with Sligo committed, a hopeful punt forward flicked off the head of Alan Keane and into the path of Zayed who couldn't gain control and duly collided with the advancing Kelly. The other Kelly -- referee Alan -- pointed to the spot with the Sligo protests relatively muted.

Fingal delegated responsibility to full-back Colm James who converted stylishly to level matters. "It took balls to put it away like that," said Buckley.

The spectre of extra-time was looming but Fingal sensed blood with Boco clearing off the line from Zayed before O'Neill's last-gasp magic moment.

Sligo Rovers -- Kelly; Boco, Peers, Keane, Kendrick; Cash (Morrison 55), Ventre, Ryan, Doyle; Cretaro (Meenan 69), Blinkhorn.

Sporting Fingal -- Quigley; James, Maher, Paisley, Fitzgerald; Bayly, McFaul, Williams; C Byrne, O'Neill, Zayed.

REF -- A Kelly (Cork).


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