Sport Soccer

Wednesday 21 February 2018

O'Conor's 'relief' at ending final hoodoo

Sligo Rovers 1 Dundalk 0

Sligo Rovers team celebrate with the cup after the game
Sligo Rovers team celebrate with the cup after the game
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

ON A watery afternoon in Tallaght, Dundalk's major trophy drought continued as Sligo Rovers danced through celebrations that are becoming a habit.

Success in Saturday's Setanta Cup decider secured Rovers' sixth trophy in the space of a four-year period and the extent to which it has become routine was perhaps illustrated by their disappointing turnout in a crowd of 2,600 that was largely dominated by Dundalk voices.

For match-winner Paul O'Conor, however, there was a wonderful novelty about the experience.

O'Conor was part of the Drogheda squad that lost three finals in 2013, including the dramatic FAI Cup decider to Sligo, but he put that memory to bed with a skilful 13th-minute finish that settled this encounter and completed the domestic set of honours for the Bit O'Red.

"Losing three cup finals is a bad stat to have and I didn't want it to get any bigger," confessed the midfielder. "I was thinking about it a bit, but it's just a relief now."

Sligo manager Ian Baraclough admitted that it wasn't a pretty victory and he became an increasingly animated figure as the second half progressed and the temperamental weather decided firmly on rain.

The Englishman was furious at a couple of attempted back passes in the direction of 'keeper Gary Rogers that were in danger of stopping on a pitch that was deteriorating rapidly into a bog.

His message then was to get it long and away from danger, whatever the means. "The last 10 minutes wasn't really football," conceded O'Conor, a 26-year-old graduate of the UCD system. "I can't imagine it was enjoyable to watch other than to laugh at."

The prospect of cancellation briefly crossed his mind and a couple of Dundalk players appealed to the Northern Irish officials as the minutes ticked down.

Baraclough felt that was possibly a little petty, yet he agreed that if the Louth club had scored an equaliser to bring the game to extra-time, it would probably have been impossible to finish the match.

"It was a scrappy game and you have to win ugly sometimes," he said. "For me, you have to show a lot of guts, a lot of traits that we have been accused of not having and hopefully that has put them to rest."

His opposite number, Stephen Kenny, made no excuses and his post-match assessment was fair. Dundalk had the greater volume of chances across the 90 minutes, but they didn't really create an outstanding clear-cut opportunity.

"Peter Cherrie (Dundalk goalkeeper) hasn't really had a save to make in the match, but at the end of the day, Sligo took their chance and that's what it's about," said Kenny.

That goal arose from Dundalk sloppiness and a free-kick decision that Kenny challenged.

His men switched off as Sligo resumed play quickly and Aaron Greene skipped past Dane Massey before crossing the ball to O'Conor, who found the net with a cheeky flick.

The Lilywhites' lone striker Pat Hoban came close with a pair of headers before the break and after the interval, he was joined by subs Kurtis Byrne and David McMillan, who were each denied.

"The conditions were worse for them," acknowledged the victorious netminder Rogers.

"As they were trying to get the ball forward, it was getting stuck in puddles or under their feet."

When he pawed McMillan's attempted lob to safety, Rovers were home, even if they weren't exactly dry.

SLIGO ROVERS – Rogers, Conneely, McMillan, Henderson, Gaynor, Ndo (Ledwith 35), Cawley, Russell, O'Conor, Greene, North

DUNDALK – Cherrie, Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey, Shields (Higgins 74), Meenan (McMillan 79), Mountney (Byrne 67), Towell, Horgan; Hoban

REF – Arnold Hunter (Fermanagh).

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