Shamrock Rovers survive dramatic equaliser to end FAI Cup famine with shootout win over Dundalk
Shamrock Rovers 1-1 Dundalk (Shamrock Rovers win 4-2 on penalties)
SHAMROCK ROVERS held their nerve to end their 32-year FAI Cup famine after responding from the heartbreak of an injury time concession to claim the trophy after a penalty shootout.
Stephen Bradley's side looked to have won the game courtesy of a spot kick in normal time when Aaron McEneff converted with a minute remaining. But Michael Duffy's stunning left-footer kept Dundalk's treble hopes alive and delivered a punch to Rovers' gut.
Bradley's charges regrouped and, while they were arguably the better side across the 120 minutes, they needed a big save from goalkeeper Alan Mannus to deny Dundalk sub Georgie Kelly and ensure that penalties would settle proceedings.
Duffy struck the bar before Mannus saved from Daniel Cleary, while the Hoops had a 100pc conversion rate with Jack Byrne, Joey O'Brien, Greg Bolger on target before Kerryman Gary O'Neill calmly stroked home the decider in front of a delirious Rovers support.
They earned this success against a Dundalk side that lacked their usual spark.
Patrick McEleney's inability to recover from injury added to the pain of Chris Shields' absence for Vinny Perth.
As expected, Sean Hoare moved into midfield but there was a surprise as club captain Brian Gartland got the nod over Andy Boyle for the central defensive vacancy.
Sean Murray benefited from McEleney's woe, with Jamie McGrath selected on the right side. But while Murray did make some promising early breaks, Dundalk's midfield was disjointed and the defenders sat deep, perhaps conscious of Aaron Greene's pace in behind.
The overall picture left gaps that Rovers were able to exploit well in the early exchanges, with Byrne busy and clipping one fine through ball into space for Greene to shoot wide. A glorious opportunity to go ahead was then squandered with Daniel Cleary getting himself in a flap and Greene capitalising to send in a cross that Ronan Finn should have converted but his attempted flick was fluffed.
The Rovers back three was comfortable enough in general play, yet Dundalk did make some inroads prior to the interval and demonstrated their prowess from set-pieces, with a pair of Murray deliveries presenting opportunities for Gartland and Cleary; Mannus stopped from Gartland while Cleary headed wide under pressure.
There was a brief spell after the interval where it looked as though the game was about to open up, but that was deceptive. Dundalk's introduction of Daniel Kelly to add pace on the right was countered by Bradley sending for Neil Farrugia. Dundalk did fashion some chances to get shots away, with Jamie McGrath and Robbie Benson off target, but Rovers were comfortable and Graham Burke forced a stop from Gary Rogers that wasn't actually noticed by the officials, who awarded a goal kick.
Extra-time appeared inevitable but, with a minute remaining, Rovers went ahead when Gartland got caught out of position and Burke took control, picking the perfect pass for Greene who went down under a challenge from Rogers, with Derek Tomney seeing enough contact to award the spot kick. McEneff's emphatic finish prompted wild celebrations, and it was panic stations on the Dundalk bench with Georgie Kelly sent in for an emergency attempt to rescue the situation.
Rovers' attempts to run down the clock meant that seconds were added to the three minutes and that gave Dundalk the window for a leveller, with Hoban's cross towards Kelly deflecting off the back of Lopes into the path of Duffy, who smashed home a superb left-footer to send this game the distance.
With Burke replaced by Bolger in an attempt to run down the clock before the goal, and Dundalk with an additional striker on the park, extra-time required rejigging. Hoban was replaced to allow Jordan Flores to come into midfield and Byrne took a more advanced role for the Hoops. What followed was a stalemate, a slow build-up towards penalty drama that only livened at the death when Georgie Kelly's close range strike was expertly kept out by Mannus. It was a sign of what was to come.
Dundalk: Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Cleary, Massey; Hoare (G Kelly 90); McGrath, Benson (Mountney 111), Murray (D Kelly 61), Duffy; Hoban (Flores 99)
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus, O'Brien, Lopes, Grace; Finn, O'Neill, McEneff, Kavanagh (Farrugia 68); Byrne; Burke (Bolger 90), Greene (Lafferty 110)