A second half brace from Kurtis Byrne and a rare Chris Shields goal saw Dundalk run out 3-1 winners at Oriel Park on Bank Holiday Monday. Having secured the league title against Rovers in Tallaght just over a week ago, the Lilywhites again collected silverware against the Hoops; this time in the form of the Leinster Senior Cup.
It is a competition most often used to blood young and fringe players, but this year’s finalists at least reflected the balance of power in the league. Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers have been the best clubs in Leinster this year. The Louth supremoes have the league sown up while the Dublin heavyweights will finish at least third, with second place still a possibility.
That said, both sides remained loyal to the experimental ethos of the cup, with the Hoops and the Lilywhites making no less than ten changes from the sides that featured in league action on Friday. Ryan Brennan for Rovers and John Mountney for Dundalk were the experienced heads guiding sides laced with U19 talent.
The game lacked the bite of the league encounters played out between these sides this season but that is not to say there wasn’t any passion in this game. Silverware, of any sort, is hard for any player worth his salt to ignore. Dundalk hadn’t won this competition since 1977/78, while the Rovers have something of a tradition of winning it with their name engraved on the trophy a 18 times.
Characterised by an irregular rhythm, the ebb and flow of dominance made it hard to call who was going to break the deadlock at the end of the first 45 minutes.
It was end to end at times, at other periods it was hard to watch. Dundalk had much more of the possession, while the better chances fell to the visitors. Ryan Brennan had an open goal at his mercy with three minutes played, but the ball just wouldn’t land for him, even with a little unspotted guidance from his arm.
The next good chance fell to the ever-alert Gareth McCaffrey, he pickpocketed Paul Finnegan’s underhit backpass and forced ‘keeper Gabriel Sava to rush off his line to produce a fine block. Both sides lacked the cohesion of the starting elevens fans might expect from the league campaign.
Although the league champions’ second string side emulated the regular starters with good possession and passing, they were largely restricted to efforts from distance from Kurtis Byrne and John Mountney which netminder Craig Hyland was more than capable of dealing with.
Dundalk climbed the gears in a much more entertaining second half that contained four goals. The first came on 53 minutes via Kurtis Byrne who had been honing in on target all night.
The tireless Michael O’Conor forced a corner for the home side and Byrne was at the edge of the area to sweep the ball into the net with a superb first time volley. A real class finish from Meenan’s corner.
Three minutes later, O’Connor was again involved when he was felled in the box for a penalty. Byrne converted it low and to the left, into the same spot as his earlier effort, to make it two.
It was Dundalk’s game to lose at this stage. David McMillian had a creditable penalty claim waved away for a Luke Byrne tackle just before Kurtis Byrne should have had his hat-trick complete on 68 minutes: Meenan picked him out on the six yard box but his wayward strike spun wide, a deflection and corner sparing some of his blushes.
Dundalk looked to be heading towards their first Leinster Senior Cup win in nearly three decades.
McCaffrey applied himself to be the foil to this plan and eeked out chances – he watched a snapshot pass the face of the goal and had Sava scrambling to gather a robust effort – but it would be substitute Aaron Dobbs, a Rovers under 17s player, who threw the visitors a lifeline on the 81st minute when he capitalised on a mix up in the Lilywhite defence to skip into the box and slot past Sava.
Dundalk ceded a 2-0 lead last week to Cork City to draw the game, but there was to be no fightback for Rovers here.
Shane Grimes was the next beneficiary of the tiring and ill-disciplined Rovers defence, his feet were chopped from beneath him by Jamie Wilson to gift the Lilywhites their second penalty of the game.
Dundalk stalwart, Chris Shields (who re-signed with the champions this week), stepped up to the mark and there was raucous cheering as his first goal of the season sealed the Leinster Senior Cup for the Oriel boys.
Dundalk FC: Gabriel Sava; Shane Grimes, Paddy Barrett, Paul Finnegan, Anton Reilly (Chris Shields 67); Kurtis Byrne (Garreth Craven 90+1), George Poyton, John Mountney (Capt), Darren Meenan, Michael O’ Connor (David McMillian 63); Sean Maguire.
Subs not used: Gary Rogers, Alan McQuilan, Carlton Ubaezuono, Joe Doyle.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; James Wilson, Maxime Blanchard (Capt), Luke Byrne, Dylan Kavanagh (Trevor Clarke. 65); James Doona (Aaron Dobbs 71), Ryan Brennan, Shane Hanney (Eoghan Morgan 58), Marty Waters, Cian Kavanagh; Gareth McCaffrey.
Subs not used: Michael Kelly, Curtis Murphy, Stephen Kelly, Jamie Hamilton.
Booked: Ryan Brennan 89, Jamie Wilson 95
Referee: Simon Rogers
Extratime.ie Man Of The Match: Kurtis Byrne (Dundalk FC)