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Dundalk struck twice in extra time to set up a third successive FAI Cup final meeting with Cork City following a 4-2 replay win over Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday evening.
After a hard fought 1-1 draw at Oriel Park, and the EA Sports Cup final last month, this would be their third meeting in a matter of weeks.
Rovers lost out on the season’s first silverware to Dundalk with a comprehensive 3-0 defeat last month.
After a tight game last week Stephen Bradley’s men will have felt they were edging closer to a victory over Dundalk.
Dundalk showed more composure in the middle of the park from the off, with Robbie Benson in particular getting his foot on the ball at every opportunity.
Michael Duffy sent a bobbling half volley just over the bar having fed off some excellent hold up play from David McMillan on the edge of the box.
However ex-Dundalk man Ronan Finn gave Rovers the lead in the ninth minute executing a technically excellent volley from the edge of the box, a goal of real quality.
The lead only lasted a matter of minutes as McMillan pulled the Lillywhites level, ghosting in at the back post to nod in a Sean Gannon cross. An explosive start from both sides.
Rovers were next to go close when Trevor Clarke pulled off Niclas Vemmelund’s shoulder before nicking the ball past the defender and blazing his shot over the bar. Clarke should have scored.
Then Gary Shaw – working like a dog as usual – got in behind his marker only for his touch to let him down as he charged at the Lilywhites' goal.
David Webster headed just wide following a corner with just over ten minutes left to play in a first half where both sides funnelled the ball out wide in search of opportunities.
McMillan proved a thorn in the side of the Rovers backline, dropping deep to link up play well all half, and he was rewarded with a boot up the backside from Lopes in the closing stages of the half.
He went close again when he flashed a left-footed volley over the bar. As the game wore on the tension and needle increased.
Dundalk had more success in linking up their play but Rovers showed that they could get in behind the Dundalk backline.
Clarke in particular had success up against Vemmelund who was playing on his weaker left side. Ryan Connolly made some vital interceptions to turnover possession quickly for Rovers.
A scrappy opening to the second half saw both managers pitched on the edge of their respective technical areas barking orders.
Dundalk took the lead when Benson tapped in on the line from a flicked on corner. The goal came out of the blue as neither team had really got going following the restart.
Seconds later, the goal scorer was late in on Webster and was lucky to avoid the referee’s book.
Dylan Connolly battled well down the right to create a chance for McMillan who drilled the ball at Chencinski.
Shane Grimes then flashed one across the Rovers goal following some excellent play from Michael Duffy, who himself drew an excellent save from Chencinski as Dundalk turned the screw.
Rovers fought back with Clarke forcing Rogers into action with a cross come shot from deep, and Finn began to exert more influence in an effort to get his side back in the game.
Brandon Miele was camped on the right side for what seemed like an age putting in cross after cross with no success before Webster seized upon a Dundalk clearance to fire an effort wide.
Stephen Bradley’s attacking substitutions paid off when Michael O’Connor got up to power in a header from an excellent cross from Clarke to level the scores.
Rovers then went in search of the winner, and former Hoop Stephen O’Donnell was instrumental in taking the sting out of the game for Dundalk. Extra time would be needed to separate the sides.
Rovers had the better of the first period of extra time, getting the ball into the box at every opportunity and pushing hard for the winner.
David McMillan went close from long range as Dundalk broke but he may have been better served squaring the ball to the on-rushing Tommy Stewart.
Tensions boiled over following a clash between O’Donnell and Bradley on the touchline, which lead to a mass brawl with every player on the pitch and bench involved.
Gannon, O’Donnell and Clarke were all booked and a member of the Rovers coaching staff was banished to the stand. Referee Paul McLaughlin must have had his red card stitched into his shorts. The whole fiasco added over five minutes to the first period of extra time.
Despite Rovers having the better of extra time - and maybe even the fighting - Dundalk took the lead again through McMillan who showed great composure to stick a left footed volley into the bottom corner of The Hoops’ net.
With Shields and O’Donnell both sitting deep, Dundalk were now set for a siege. Rovers obliged, Doona firing a left-footed rocket past Rogers’ post.
But the game was put to bed when O’Donnell put a pin-point header into the top corner of Chencinski’s goal after a magnificent Shields ball from deep. Bradley will be disappointed the run was not tracked.
Rovers fans left in their droves but their side refused to give up pushing right to the end. Their valiant effort just wasn’t enough.
Dundalk advanced to their third FAI Cup Final in as many years as their quality told in extra time. Both sides were applauded by their respective fans upon the final whistle.
A tremendous game in Tallaght.
Shamrock Rovers: Tomer Chencinski; Luke Byrne (Cameron King 73), David Webster, Lee Grace, Roberto Lopes(Michael O’Connor 81); Ryan Connolly (James Doona 60), Ronan Finn©, Brandon Miele, Simon Madden, Trevor Clarke; Gary Shaw.
Subs Not Used: Kevin Horgan (gk), Dean Carpenter, Sean Boyd, Darren Clarke.
Booked: Lopes, Webster, Clarke.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Niclas Vemmelund (Shane Grimes 45), Sean Hoare; Michael Duffy (Chris Shields 100), Jamie McGrath, Stephen O’Donnell ©, Robbie Benson, Dylan Connolly (Thomas Stewart 68); David McMillan.
Subs Not Used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Jake O’Connor; Carlton Ubaezuonu, Jack O’Keefe.
Booked: Hoare, O’Donnell, Gannon.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Stephen O’Donnell (Dundalk)