Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk side got their hands on silverware for the first time since 2002 in a hotly contested EA Sports Cup showpiece in which the Lilywhites ran out 3-2 winners against Pat Fenlon’s Shamrock Rovers in Oriel Park this afternoon.
They say familiarity breeds contempt and that statement was certainly true as the two sides encountered one another for the third time in little over a week.
The early stages of the first half where a feisty few minutes with Towell, Mc Phail, Sheppard and Massey finding themselves on the receiving end of mistimed and late challenges but it was a foul on McMillian which gave Dundalk a free kick in a very advantageous position and it was the aforementioned Dane Massey that stepped up to take giving the Lilywhites the lead.
The 20-yard strike went up and over the wall beating Craig Hyland at his near post and smashing off the bottom of the crossbar before nestling in the back of the net.
Dundalk looked more comfortable on the Oriel Park surface which allowed for the quick passing game that has helped them challenge for the title this season while the Hoops where left pumping long balls up to the hard working Karl Sheppard for large parts of the first half but with little to show for his efforts.
The league leaders began to sit back and rest on their laurels which allowed the Hoops to come back into the game and they began knitting passes together and getting crosses into the box and after testing a sun-blinded Gabriel Sava a number of times but it was Jason McGuinness who equalized as he tapped home from six yards assisted by Luke Byrne who nodded the ball down from a Sean O’Connor corner.
The goal really gave Shamrock Rovers the imputes to take control of the game and leading up to half time they looked the most likely to make something happen, Finn showing glimpses of what he was capable of, charging through the Dundalk defence and laying a chance on for Sheppard only to see his effort go wide.
The second half began with a bang as Dane Massey grabbed his second of the final as he nodded the ball past Hyland in what was a poorly defended set-piece with no Rovers player on the back post but there was to be no time for a post-mortem of the second Dundalk goal as there was to be a third just moments later.
Pat Hoban doubled the lead when he headed home Dundalk’s third while unmarked in the Rovers area. Stephen Kenny’s half-time talk obviously worked a treat and it appeared that the two sides had undergone a role reversal at half time, the Hoops looking a shadow of their dominant first-half selves.
Rovers kept giving the ball away and where forced into numerous errors by a Dundalk side who were at this point the best team in the game by some distance who looked a different side who had completely upped a gear and Pat Fenlon’s men were not prepared for this.
There was a glimmer of hope when Stephen McPhail won the ball down the right hand side (after a dubious throw in was awarded to the visitors) and the subsequent cross was planted onto the forehead of substitute Ciaran Kilduff who headed the ball with such power and accuracy that Sava stood no chance.
But despite their best efforts there was to be no fairy-tale cup final comeback for the Hoops and despite some late attempts including a Patrick Cregg strike which was fired over the bar a no-show in the second half meant that the EA Sports Cup would be returning to Dundalk for the first time since 1990.
Dundalk: Gabriel Sava, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Daryl Horgan, Patrcik Hoban, Keith Ward (Chris Sheilds 45’) Ruaidhri Higgins (John Mountney 79’) Dane Massey, David McMillan, Richie Towell, Mark Rossiter (Andy Boyle 84’)
Subs Not Used: Peter Cherrie, Kurtis Byrne, Donal McDermott, Darren Meenan.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland, Simon Madden, Conor Kenna, Patrick Cregg, Kieran Marty Waters (Ciaran Kilduff 66’), Sean O'Connor, Jason McGuinness, Karl Sheppard (Dean Kelly 80’), Stephen McPhail, Luke Byrne, Ronan Finn (Gary McCabe 69’)
Subs not Used: Conor O'Malley, Robert Cornwall, Shane Robinson, Robert Bayly.
Extratime.ie Man of The Match: Dane Massey