Cork City moved one step closer to bringing some silverware back to Leeside, as they produced a brilliant team performance to eventually see off the challenge of a spirited St Patrick’s Athletic side 3-1 at Richmond Park on Sunday afternoon. In the process, City have qualified for back to back FAI Cup Finals for the first time in the club’s history.
Having gone toe to toe with Dundalk for the past number of seasons, including beating them on three occasions this year already, all City have been missing is a trophy to show for their impressive brand of football.
But what is clear about Cork this season is that they have become a much more ruthless and lethal side and even though Dundalk may be grabbing all of the headlines for their Europa League exploits, there is no doubt that this City side are more than able to match them and the gap between the two sides is very minimal at this stage.
If there is a time for Cork to finally earn some silverware, it looks very much like now and they will never have a better opportunity than this, especially with Derry City and Dundalk having to replay their semi-final on Tuesday night. The fixture congestion will hinder the Lilywhites efforts in making it three league titles in a row.
One of City’s most experienced and best centre backs in their history, Alan Bennett, headed City in front, before one of the top strikers in the country in Christy Fagan got Pats back on level terms before the half time break.
John Caulfield’s side went back in front shortly into the second half, when Sean Maguire showed his predatory instincts in front of goal, with a clinical header. He was then on hand to get his second of the day and 24th of the season, as Cork capped off what was a great day for the club.
Right from the kick off, one could sense both teams saw this as a game of massive significance in their seasons. For the Saints, the cups this season have shown how good a side they can be and they knew they have to win the competition to get European football for next season.
While City were desperate to finally get a trophy to showcase all of the consistency they have shown over the last three years, running Dundalk so close in the league and cup competitions in both 2014 and 2015
The Leesiders went close early on when Karl Sheppard’s headed effort was saved, following a Stephen Dooley corner. Though both sides were more than in the game throughout the opening half, it was City who had the more clear cut chances and they took the lead with 25 minutes on the clock.
A corner kick by Kevin O’Connor on the right hand side was met at the near post by Bennett, who was the quickest to react to give the Leesiders the advantage.
Coity, who made a massive statement of intent in the previous round with a famous five goal win in Tallaght, were looking to increase the advantage right away here as well.
Maguire, who is one of the best forwards around the League of Ireland at the moment with a brilliant touch, turned well inside the box but his shot went just over the bar via a deflection.
Like Maguire, who has been involved in the Ireland U21 squads in recent times, it was another player who has been called up by Noel King who went close to bringing Pats back level. Sean Hoare’s header came back off the bar, following a free kick by Conan Byrne. That was a timely reminder that Saints were still right in this contest.
Pats gradually were coming back into things and perhaps deservedly were on level terms, when Fagan got his 14th goal of the season in all competitions. The former Manchester United youth team man was on hand to clinically head in from Bermingham’s good run and cross.
Hoare blazed over for Pats from Byrne’s corner as the referee blew to an end of what was an exhilarating half of football. Based on this showing, it was hard to believe that 23 pts separate these two sides in the Premier Division.
City responded in the perfect manner at the start of the second half, when Maguire headed The Rebel Army back in front with his 23rd goal of the season, following a good ball into the area by Steven Beattie.
Knowing this was now or never for their chances of playing in Europe next year, Pats knew they had to find another goal from somewhere. But as the half wore on, they struggled to create any more clear cut openings , as the Cork defence remained resolute. Fagan went close to getting another goal, following a good run by Graham Kelly.
Maguire’s speed and control on the ball is a massive asset to Cork and this was quite clear for all to see when he got City’s third goal of the afternoon. IT came courtesy of neat finish after a great run into the box so that his team are now just 90 minutes away from winning their first FAI Cup since 2007.
St Patricks Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ian Bermingham, Darren Dennehy, Sean Hoare, Ger O’Brien; Lee Desmond, Graham Kelly (Michael Barker, 74) ; Billy Dennehy (Dinny Corcoran, 79), Jamie McGrath, Conan Byrne (Mark Timlin, 74 ); Christy Fagan.
Subs not used: Pat Jennings(gk), Rory Feely, Dylan McGlade, Darragh Markey.
Booked: Billy Dennehy (36).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Kevin O’Connor , Alan Bennett, Kenny Browne, Steven Beattie; Greg Bolger(Colin Healy, 86), Gearóid Morrissey(Gavan Holohan, 22 ), Stephen Dooley , Garry Buckley , Karl Sheppard; Sean Maguire(Mark O’Sullivan, 82).
Subs not used: Eric Grimes (gk), Danny Morrissey, Michael McSweeney, Chiedozie Ogbene.
Booked: Kenny Browne (33).
Referee: Robert Harvey.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Sean Maguire (Cork City).