It’s always a sub-plot when Cork City meet Shamrock Rovers that Billy Dennehy is facing his former club, and Monday evening was the night he finally made his old employer pay.
The Kerry-born winger converted his free-kick in the 93rd minute at Turner’s Cross to send his side into the final of the Setanta Cup, and dump the Rebel Army out of the competition in the cruelest manner – with yet another late goal.
It’s been a common theme on Leeside that last minute goals have become a severe problem, and for the first time this year they have claimed their first tangible victim – Cork City’s Setanta Cup campaign.
The tie finished 3-3 on aggregate and 2-2 on the night, but the men from the capital advanced thanks to the fact that they scored two away goals as opposed to Cork City’s sole goal in Tallaght.
There will undoubtedly be an inquest into just what this problem is for City, but that should not detract from the superb achievement of Shamrock Rovers who twice had to come from behind at one of the most hostile environments in the League of Ireland. They did just that to secure their place in the first possible final of the season, and of Trevor Croly’s reign.
It was Cork City who registered the first real shot on target with 12 minutes on the clock. Ian Turner drilled a cross across goal from the right wing, which evaded all the Rovers defence and fell to Daryl Horgan whose half volley took a deflection and ended up wide of the target.
From the resulting corner Gearoid Morrissey performed an audacious little flick that went straight into the keeper’s hands, but City, and more specifically Horgan, were active once more moments later. This time the ball sat up just outside the box for the winger to have a strike at goal but once again it was blocked, Derek Foran throwing his body on the line to prevent his goalkeeper Barry Murphy from having to make a save.
The Rebel Army were really showing all the attacking initiative, and finally took a deserved lead one minute into first half stoppage time. Unsurprisingly it was the leading attacking light of the game, Daryl Horgan, who produced the goal. The Damien Duff lookalike fired an effort at goal which was parried onto the post by the net-minder, only to defy the logic of physics and spin into the net.
Shamrock Rovers then brought James Chambers on in place of Thomas Stewart, switching to a five man midfield in the process. The move yielded positive initial results, almost culminating on the hour mark. Chambers himself pulled the trigger from long range, only to see his shot deflected wide. The referee then inexplicably pointed for a goal kick, infuriating the men from Dublin in the process.
Then, two minutes later, City really could have – and should have – added an insurance goal. Daryl Kavanagh found strike partner Danny Furlong in the final third, but the forward blasted over when he really should have done better.
With 18 minutes of normal time remaining, Rovers got themselves an equaliser that had been coming. Stephen Rice shot from the edge of the penalty area only to see the ball take a deflection off Darren Dennehy and beat Mark McNulty in the Cork goal.
Cork manager Tommy Dunne responded by reverting to five in midfield himself, and the tactical tweak nearly paid dividends with four minutes left on the clock. Ian Turner did brilliantly to get down the right wing before cutting the ball back across goal to Daryl Horgan, who then saw his strike at goal blocked down by Pat Sullivan.
Just a minute later, it appeared that the hosts had secured their passage to the final. Turner was the creator once again, this time whipping in a corner kick from the left side that was flicked on by Gearoid Morrissey and Daryl Kavanagh was there to stab home at the back post.
Then, in the dying seconds, disaster struck for Cork City – and quite the opposite for Shamrock Rovers. The referee awarded the visitors a free kick outside the box which ex-Cork City man Billy Dennehy stepped up to take. He proceeded to curl his effort over the wall and into the back of the net, to break Cork hearts and send the Rovers players, fans and bench into unadulterated jubilation.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Neal Horgan, Darren Dennehy, Dan Murray, Danny Murphy; Ian Turner, Gearoid Morrissey, Shane Duggan, Daryl Horgan; Daryl Kavanagh, Danny Furlong (Garry Buckley 76).
Subs not used: Kevin Burns (gk), Denis Behan, Adam Rundle, Danny Morrissey, Kalen Spillane, Stephen Kenny.
Booked: D Kavanagh (63).
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Pat Sullivan, David Elebert (Ciaran Kilduff 90), Derek Foran, Conor Powell (Danny Ledwith 18); Billy Dennehy, Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice, Gary McCabe; Karl Sheppard, Thomas Stewart (James Chambers 56).
Subs not used: Richard Brush (gk), Shane Robinson, Sean O’Connor, Conor McCormack.
Booked: Foran (29), Rice (32), B Dennehy (54).
Referee: Padraigh Sutton.
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Derek Foran (Shamrock Rovers ).