A late, late winner from substitute James Doona fired Shamrock Rovers into the final of the EA Sports Cup as they overcame ten-man Cork City in extra-time at Tallaght Stadium on Monday night.
Neither side managed to put their stamp on an uneventful first half but on 38 minutes the game burst into life when Rovers centre back Dave Webster hit the turf in an off-the-ball incident following a corner. After something of a melee Cork’s Alan Bennett was shown a red card by referee Neil Doyle, apparently for a stamp, but the Leesiders made it to half-time without ceding the advantage.
It was an incident that momentarily roused the small crowd who had had little else to shout about during the opening period. Conor Ellis had headed wide for the visitors from Steven Dooley’s corner on 18 minutes and Gary Shaw had his shot well saved by Mark McNulty after he caught Bennett in possessionon on the half hour.
Jimmy Keohane got a shot on target for City in the same incident as the sending off but Tomer Chensinski gathered the ball without difficulty, and at the other end Brandon Miele screwed his shot well wide a minute before the break.
With striker Ellis sacrificed to bring on centre back Conor McCarthy, City began the second period with Karl Sheppard up front but, predictably, it was Rovers who set the pace. Graham Burke glanced Trevor Clarke’s cross wide two minutes after the restart and then powered a shot at McNulty a minute later.
With Carke and Madden pressing high up the flanks Rovers assumed complete control and on 53 minutes Ronan Finn worked soace for a shot from 20 yards to which McNulty got the faintest fingertip, enough to guide it away from goal and onto the post.
The siege continued with City sitting deep in two banks of four, occasionally launching a long ball towards the isolated figure of Sheppard. But the ball kept coming back, Rovers working it across the yawning space of midfield before punching in a series of crosses.
As time wore on Cork’s organisation improved and Rovers, despite having the vast majority of possession, struggled to create anything within striking distance of the City goal. There was now little doubt how the rest of the contest would play out. Rovers would attack, City would def3nd and the margin would be found in the first significant mistake.
Miele flicked a ball to the near post on 71 minutes but Shaw’s dink of a header was plucked from the air by McNulty. Two minutes later Miele rolled a shot inches wide of McNulty’s far post after an incisive one-two with Shaw.
Miele curled a shot over McNulty’s bar when afforded fractionally too much space on the edge of the City box. Then Clarke scooped his effort over the angle of post and bar as the home side beat on the door without forcing it open. Time after time a City body was flung beneath the wheels of Shamrock Rovers’ progress and tie remained scoreless.
The danger to Rovers, as the minutes ticked by without a breakthrough, became apparent seven minutes from time when Sheppard almost took advantage of a weak backpass, but the bulk of the drama remained at the other end. With just one minute of the 90 to play Rovers nearly found a way through, McAllister driving high over the bar after Madden’s shot had been blocked low at the near post.
The tension continued with City manager John Caulfield sent to the stand on ninety minutes but his men held out through three added minutes to force extra time. Within two minutes Finn had fizzed a shot over the City bar as the game’s very clear dynamic was dutifully resumed.
After prolonged pressure Cork broke on 98 minutes, a superb bit of footwork from substitute Gearoid Morrissey releasing Sheppard, but his shot skidded wide of the Rovers goal. It was a momentary glitch in the matrix, however, and the home fans were left fuming two minutes later when a Griffin push on Madden inside the City box went unpunished by Neil Doyle.
Rovers’ frustration continued into the final period of play as fatigue began to take its toll. The tempo dropped and the home side’s continuing dominance lost a degree or two of urgency. Connoly fired over for the Hoops, as did Clarke but a knockout blow seemed incresingly unlikely until the very death.
Penalties seemed inevitable until the ball was worked out to the left where substitute James Doona cut inside his man, checked back out again, and then fired a lethal shot past McNulty and into the far corner of the Cork net.
Having battled for so long against the odds it was a devastating blow for the League leaders but Rovers’ dominance of the tie was unquestionable and Stephen Bradley will take his side into the Final on the 16th of September.
Shamrock Rovers: Tomer Chencinski; Simon Madden, Dave Webster, Luke Byrne (Dean Carpenter 59), Trevor Clarke; Ryan Connolly, Ronan Finn, Dave McAllister (James Doona 95), Brandon Miele; Graham Burke; Gary Shaw (Michael O’Connor 101).
Subs Not Used: Kevin Horgan (gk), Cian Collins, Aaron Bolger, Sean Boyd.
Booked: Webster (90), Madden (95).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie (Gearoid Morrissey 90+3), Alan Bennett, Ryan Delaney, Shane Griffin; Karl Sheppard (Achille Campion 101), Garry Buckley, Greg Bolger, Jimmy Keohane, Stephen Dooley; Conor Ellis (Conor McCarthy 42).
Subs Not Used: David Coffey (gk), Robbie Williams, Sean McLoughlin, Pierce Philips.
Booked: Sheppard (31), Beattie (88).
Sent Off: Bennett (38), Griffin (103).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Extratime Man of the Match: Trevor Clarke (Shamrock Rovers)