Drogheda United 1 - 0 Dundalk
Drogheda United have another cup final to look forward to after they reached the FAI Cup final with a controversial derby victory over neighbours Dundalk.
An award of a soft penalty to the hosts, expertly tucked home by Gavin Brennan, coupled with red cards for Darren Meenan and Chris Shields in the space of five first half minutes put the hosts into the showpiece occasion of Irish football.
The local neighbours did battle for the first time in this competition since 2011 when, after a replay, two fine goals from Keith Ward and Mark Quigley ensured Dundalk went marching on before Bohemians halted their progress.
Both sides named close to full strength sides and it was Drogheda who were the early aggressors, winning a series of corners inside the opening two minutes although they were comfortably dealt with by the Dundalk defence.
The ball skidded from one end to the other in the frantic following minutes as the sides adjusted to the rain which continued to drive down before Gavin Brennan curled a free kick over the top for the home side.
It was the kind of edgy opening everyone had anticipated from the game given that these sides have served up similar such close, tense affairs throughout 2013 already and it certainly was to prove no different, especially with the magnitude of this particular occasion.
Brian Gartland skewed a free header wide on 12 minutes from a Darren Meenan dead ball and three minutes later they almost had an opener when returning captain Stephen O’Donnell got to a delightful Dane Massey cross before Micheal Schlingermann but his header ended up falling wide of the left-hand post.
A David Cassidy free kick then found Alan Byrne rising highest to meet it for the Drogs but his header lacked conviction and was easily held by Peter Cherrie as was a low effort from Paul O’Conor which followed shortly afterwards.
Then O’Conor was involved in serious controversy when he was on the receiving end of a sliding tackle from Meenan on the edge of the area which controversially had Anthony Buttimer reaching for the red card much to the fury of the visiting bench and support.
If that was bad though, it got much worse minutes later when Declan O’Brien tore into the penalty box and was met by a robust challenge from Shields and Buttimer then reached for his back pocket and made the inexplicable decision to send off the Lilywhites midfielder, the referee looking like he had made the wrong choice but not that will be any crumb of comfort to Dundalk.
Despite all of the furore over those two decisions and the hostile atmosphere that was beginning to build inside the ground, Gavin Brennan kept the coolest head in Louth to step up and stroke the ball into the corner and give his side a massive advantage in their bid to reach yet another cup final.
John Sullivan had a superb header saved on the stroke of half time from a Kurtis Byrne corner, Schlingermann reacting well at the near post to deny him as it looked as if the best chance the visitors would have of a goal was going to be from a set-piece situation.
Dundalk’s first team coach Vinny Perth was also hit with the red card at half time for his protests towards Buttimer and when the second started, Ryan Brennan had an early header well saved by Cherrie as the hosts looked for a goal that would have killed the contest.
The second half started in the same way as the first with Dundalk looking for any opening they could find while United tried their best to stretch the game with their numerical advantage.
Gavin Brennan gave Sullivan the runaround before blasting in a strike that Cherrie did well to punch clear at his near post as little chances were created with the game mainly being contested in the middle and wide areas as the half wore on.
Drogheda looked content to see the game out while their rivals simply could not find the openings that they would have had they also had full numbers on the field, the best that Dundalk could manage being a wild one from distance from substitute Tiarnan Mulvenna.
Mick Cooke’s men were clever in their use of the ball, making Dundalk chase as much as possible and the toll it was taking on the United players was evident while Drogheda distributed the ball with confidence and comfort.
Brennan missed with another fizzed strike and O’Brien flicked a header wide of the mark as the minutes ticked down before Mulvenna created a chance out of nothing when he tore past his marker from the halfway line and into the box but his high strike was well tipped over by Schilingermann and Cherrie did the same at the other when Drogheda countered through Shane Grimes.
He produced another fine one from a Ryan Brennan volley again late in the game.
Drogheda United: Micheal Schlingermann; Mick Daly, Derek Prendergast (c), Alan McNally, Shane Grimes; David Cassidy, Paul O’Conor (Peter Hynes 61), Alan Byrne, Ryan Brennan, Gavin Brennan; Declan O’Brien.
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Gavin Holohan, Philip Hand, Graham Rusk, Eric Foley, Jason Marks.
Bookings: Daly (90+1)
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; John Sullivan (Vinny Faherty 73), Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Richie Towell, Stephen O’Donnell, Chris Shields; Darren Meenan, Kurtis Byrne (Tiarnan Mulvenna 66); Patrick Hoban (John Mountney 38)
Subs not used: Conor Winn, Nathan Murphy, Simon Kelly, John Dillon.
Bookings: Byrne (62), O’Donnell (73)
Sent Off: Meenan (26), Shields (31)
Referee: Anthony Buttimer
Attendance: 2,000 (estimate)
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Gavin Brennan (Drogheda United).