Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
Dundalk booked their place in a fourth successive FAI Cup final, thanks to a narrow 1-0 win over First Division champions UCD in what was a thoroughly enjoyable encounter at Oriel Park.
A sublime goal from Patrick McEleney four minutes before half-time – his second goal in the space of four days – sealed the club’s passage into an Aviva Stadium showdown against either Bohemians or Cork City in November.
Heartbreakingly for UCD, this match marked the end of what has been a truly remarkable season for the Students, who sealed their promotion back to the top-flight two weeks ago.
For this Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup semi-final, Dundalk made three changes from the side that all but secured the Premier Division title on Tuesday night against Derry City as Brian Gartland, Dane Massey and Robbie Benson came into the starting XI.
Collie O’Neill made five changes from his UCD side’s final league fixture which against Longford Town last weekend with Conor Kearns, Liam Scales, Neil Farrugia, Conor Davis and Timmy Molloy all returning to the fold.
The Students, who were massive underdogs heading into this cup tie, acquitted themselves excellently in the early stages and indeed throughout this match, playing the ball on the ground whilst restricting the hosts to pot-shots from both Massey and Patrick Hoban in the first quarter of an hour.
As expected, Dundalk were also playing an attractive brand of football and went close when Michael Duffy’s low cross from the left was brilliantly cleared by Scales as Hoban was waiting to pounce.
From that clearance, McEleney jinked past the challenge of two UCD defenders but saw his shot deflected out wide for a corner.
A beautiful pass from McEleney had sent Robbie Benson through on goal but the capable Scales did brilliantly to intercept the former UCD man and clear the danger, though Dundalk were beginning to turn the screw at this point.
The Lilywhites were denied what looked to be a stonewall penalty when Sean Gannon got in behind the UCD defence before being unquestionably pulled to the ground by Jason McClelland. However, referee Robert Hennessy waved away the appeals, much to Stephen Kenny’s bemusement.
Kenny’s side took the lead four minutes before the break, when the sublime McEleney picked up the ball, skipped the challenge of two UCD defenders before rifling a shot into the top corner which gave goalkeeper Kearns absolutely no chance.
Hoban, who equalled a club record for league goals in a single campaign on Tuesday night, then saw his two low shots easily saved by Kearns as the Lilywhites went in a goal to the good at the break.
The Students continued in their attempts to beat Dundalk at their own game after the restart and started to create chances of their own, with captain Gary O’Neill firing in a free-kick that Gary Rogers had to get down low to push around his right-hand post.
The veteran Dundalk goalkeeper again had to be alert minutes later to save Farrugia’s effort from 25 yards out.
Dundalk then began to press for a second goal that would have surely killed the tie off and a nice move involving John Mountney, Hoban and McEleney saw the latter force a decent save out of Kearns.
Kearns perhaps could have shown better handling ability when flapping at two shots at his near post from Hoban but luckily for Collie O’Neill’s side, nothing amounted from either corner.
Dundalk should have made the game safe two minutes into stoppage time after some excellent play from both Chris Shields and Duffy had teed up Hoban but the Loughrea native couldn’t beat Kearns.
It mattered not however, as Dundalk held on to reach their fourth successive FAI Cup final, where they await the winners Sunday’s semi-final at Dalymount Park between Bohemians and Cork City.
Dundalk:Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Daniel Cleary, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Dean Jarvis 90+3); John Mountney (Jamie McGrath 77), Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used:Gabriel Sava, Stephen Folan, Dylan Connolly, Ronan Murray, Georgie Kelly.
Booked:Daniel Cleary (20), Chris Shields (65).
UCD:Conor Kearns; Dan Tobin (Yousef Mahdy 87), Josh Collins, Liam Scales, Paul Doyle; Neil Farrugia, Greg Sloggett, Timmy Molloy (Daire O’Connor 82), Gary O’Neill, Jason McClelland; Conor Davis.
Subs not used:Gavin Sheridan, Evan Farrell, Kevin Coffey, Conor Crowley, Sean McDonald.
Booked:Conor Davis (21).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match:Patrick McEleney (Dundalk).
WHAT A STRIKE! The goal that secured @DundalkFC's date with the @AVIVAStadium!— FAIreland (@FAIreland) September 28, 2018
Patrick McEleney's strike secures a 1-0 victory over @UCDAFC to claim their fourth consecutive #FAICup final spot!
Report https://t.co/hSFReCjQkg pic.twitter.com/AIKF74Vsgo