Sunday 27 May 2018

Saints marching on to date with destiny

The St Patrick's Athletic celebrations combined the familiar emotions of euphoria and relief on the full-time whistle at Oriel Park.

There was probably a bit of trepidation, too. The FAI Cup teases them with afternoons like this. Semi-final success brings the Inchicore club within 90 minutes of ending their storied 51-year famine. They know from bitter experience that the big day can bring heartbreak. Hope is dangerous.

"I would appeal for anyone that's been a St Pat's supporter over the past 50 years to come out and support us," said manager Liam Buckley, with a nod to November 4.

Regardless of who wins the replay in the other semi-final, the Saints will enter the final as favourites.

A 14-game unbeaten run means that a league and cup double is still possible, but that is an unlikely scenario, dependent on victory in Sligo on Saturday and a collapse from the Bit O'Red in their final two matches.

"It's Sligo's to win or lose, but if we get a result up there we will keep it alive for the last couple of games," said Buckley. To do that, Saints will have to raise their performance a couple of levels.

Dundalk, comfortably the worst side in the top flight, were devoid of the quality required to capitalise on periods of sluggishness from the victors.

If Pat's officials were feeling the nerves beforehand, the players endeavoured to make them relax with a purposeful start.

They forged into a 21st-minute lead, a goal which arose from a sloppy foul by Dundalk left-back Eoghan Osborne.

Sean O'Connor's subsequent free was brilliantly saved by Peter Cherrie, but the 'keeper was exposed from the corner that followed, with Ger O'Brien's delivery knocked back across the area by Chris Forrester for centre-half Kenny Browne to convert from close range. It was a goal that illustrated why Dundalk had conceded 11 in their previous two outings.

Yet, their response was not in keeping with the pre-match pessimism -- odds of 6/1 about a home side in a cup semi-final are fairly rare -- and with better application in the final third the hosts might have levelled before the break.

Journeyman striker Barry Conlon scored over 100 league goals in a colourful career across the water, and he should have opened his account here when he slipped unnoticed to the back post to meet a John Mountney free.

Powerful

The resultant header was powerful, yet inaccurate.

With Sligo in mind, the visitors had a setback before the break when James Chambers was forced off through injury. In the context of this game, though, the cloud had a silver lining.

Substitute Greg Bolger emerged to deliver the killer blow to his former club nine minutes into the second half, ghosting into the area to steer an O'Connor centre past Cherrie.

To their credit, the Louth men produced a spirited response rather than letting the heads bow, with Michael Rafter shooting over from close range and then Gary Shanahan denied by an expertly timed Conor Kenna block following a driving run from Mountney.

Sustaining that momentum proved beyond the hosts and, with the pitch taking its toll on both sides, the Saints looked fitter in the final quarter.

An inspired goal-line clearance from Derek Foran prevented Bolger from adding a second, but the third goal eventually came with O'Connor finding the empty net after Cherrie had raced from his area to halt Christy Fagan's charge.

Dundalk -- Cherrie; O'Brien, Burns, Foran, Osborne; Walsh (Shannon 75), Shields, Moutney, Shanahan (McDonnell 77); Rafter (McKenna 85), Conlon.

St Patrick's Athletic -- Murphy; O'Brien, Kenna, Browne, Bermingham; Chambers (Bolger 41), Carroll, Forrester (Russell 68); O'Connor, Fagan, J Kelly (Faherty 83).

Ref - A Kelly (Cork).

Irish Independent

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