Richie Towell pounces to seal double delight for Dundalk
Dundalk 1 Cork City 0
FITTINGLY, the golden moment that settled this FAI Cup final was provided by two players that have the potential to play at the Aviva Stadium more regularly in the future.
The potent combination of Daryl Horgan and Richie Towell combined for Dundalk's extra time winner to complete a historic double.
In a final that went the distance, they sprung to life in the 107th minute. Sensing that Cork limbs were tiring, Horgan spotted a gap and embarked on a direct run down the left flank that left his pursuers trailing before showing the composure to find Towell who ghosted into space to calmly convert his 28th goal of a remarkable season.
It was by no means a vintage display from Stephen Kenny's side, but they deserved this triumph for the manner in which they moved things up a gear as the game went to extra-time. Their fitness levels have been highlighted as one of their major strengths, and that came to the fore in the dying stages as Cork never really looked like grabbing a leveller. But there was quality in decision making too, with a half fit Stephen O'Donnell excellent and centre halves Andy Boyle and Brian Gartland assured when put under pressure.
The clash of the top two teams in the country had built expectations but, in truth, it ended up being a bit of a disappointment, particularly the forgettable first half.
Dundalk started brightly, controlling possession and spreading the play for the opening ten minutes although a Ronan Finn shot was the sum total of their efforts.
They lost their way thereafter, however, as Cork worked hard to close down the champions. Liam Miller was joined in midfield by Kevin O'Connor, a player who normally features on the left side, and his energy was vital. Indeed, as they began to press higher, Dundalk started to make mistakes and the Leesiders forced a series of corners which could have broken the deadlock with Gary Rogers unsure of himself in a scramble that led to a panicked clearance.
The Louthmen then met with a setback before the interval when right full Sean Gannon injured his ankle and was unable to continue which led to the introduction of pre-match doubt Stephen O'Donnell and Chris Shields switching to right back. Shields had been prominent in the physical exchanges, with a bout of shoving between the teams kicking off after a foul on Darren Meenan. The clash of lone Cork striker Mark O'Sullivan and his marker Gartland was one of the entertaining subplots, yet the main event was low on thrills until the second half.
Kenny's side have a habit of bursting out of the blocks after the restart and that proved to be the case when the overlapping Dane Massey teed up Dave McMillan for a right footer that Mark McNulty pushed over the bar. McMillan then rued taking one touch too many when he was played through on McNulty. But Cork responded with a chance of their own when Garry Buckley barged his way into space only to shoot wide.
Miller's contribution ended before the hour mark with fellow ex-international Colin Healy sent in to bolster the Cork midfield. Dundalk were on top at this juncture with Towell, who had been subdued, breaking free to test McNulty. A weaving run from Horgan also called the City stopper into action. Cork had their moments though and, just as Kenny sprung Ciaran Kilduff for McMillan, green jerseys had several chances to put their boot on a ball that bounced loose from a corner. Conviction was lacking.
That was the theme at the other end as the clock ticked towards the inevitability of extra-time; Towell had the chance to settle it but he was off balance and couldn't get the right connection on a clever flick from Kilduff.
He would make up for it when it really mattered.
Dundalk: Rogers, Gannon (O'Donnell 43), Boyle, Gartland, Massey; Shields, Towell; Meenan (Mountney 77), Finn, Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 71)
Cork City: McNulty, Dunleavy, Bennett, D Dennehy, Gaynor; Miller (Healy 59), O'Connor; B Dennehy, Buckley, Sheppard (Murray 100); O'Sullivan (Morrissey 79)
Referee: Dave McKeon (Dublin)