Dundalk’s historic treble dreams have got even closer to reality after they saw off Sligo Rovers in a pulsating FAI Cup semi-final clash at the Showgrounds.
Michael Duffy’s 89th minute winner was enough to see off Liam Buckley’s crestfallen side – who were more than a match for the Lilywhites throughout the 90 minutes.
Both sides came into the game making changes from their most recent league wins against UCD and Shamrock Rovers respectively.
Ronan Coughlan made his return to the starting eleven in place of Ronan Murray – while Robbie Benson dropped out for the league winners in place of winger Daniel Kelly.
A jam-packed Showgrounds witnessed a lively enough start to proceedings with both Kris Twardek and Michael Duffy both testing Ed McGinty and Gary Rogers early on.
The Bit O’Red were dealt a considerable blow after just ten minutes, when striker Romeo Parkes was forced off with injury in a rather innocuous looking coming together with a Lilywhite body.
A lively beginning was met by a period of staleness, but the home crowd were soon jolted into life as John Mahon saw his glancing header just go wide of goal from a David Cawley delivery into the box.
The Bit O’Red soon saw calls for a penalty fall on deaf ears, despite an evident trailing leg from Daniel Cleary cutting down Coughlan as the former Cork City forward looked set to pull the trigger on goal.
Vinny Perth’s side were dealt an injury issue of their own minutes later as captain for the day Patrick McEleney was taken off with what looked like a hamstring injury before the half-hour mark.
Coughlan, who was causing problems then went close with a stretched effort on goal that forced Rogers into action – parrying the ball away for a corner-kick.
In a game that lacked any sort of fluency in the opening period – Sean Hoare had the visitor’s best chance of the half when he got on the end of a Duffy corner-kick into the box but Scottish ‘keeper McGinty saved well as both sides went in scoreless at the break.
While the opening 45 lacked any sort of zip and purpose at times, the initial few minutes of the second half certainly picked up from where it left off at the half-time whistle.
It was in fact Dundalk who had the first notable effort on goal in the second period – with the previously ineffectual Patrick Hoban going close with a low strike at the near post.
Full-back Sean Gannon found the target man but McGinty was more than equal to his effort on target – as the Lilywhites flexed their power and muscle early on.
Highly-rated John Mahon was soon called upon to make a telling block as Jamie McGrath looked set to score as the hosts began to drop slightly deeper as the threat from the Co. Louth outfit grew substantially.
Having scored 18 times in their previous three FAI Cup outings, Sligo struggled to build in an attacking sense for much of the second half – with Perth’s treble chasers well in control of the game.
Breaking with purpose, the Lilywhites ought to have taken the lead as sub Sean Murray broke clear from a Sligo corner, but he was unable to find Hoban as his pass was too long.
Dundalk were presented with an even better chance moments after – as Murray looked to have the opportunity to fire into an empty net – but he blazed over the bar much to the relief of a large home support.
However, heartbreak was to come for the Bit O’Red with just minutes remaining on the clock – as Duffy stabbed home a late winner for Dundalk on the volley.
The 25 year old got on the end of Murray’s delivery to set up a November 3rd date for Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium against Shamrock Rovers with a dramatic winner.
The treble now appears even closer for Perth’s history makers, while Sligo will be left to lick their sore wounds after giving their all against such renowned opposition.
Sligo Rovers: Edward McGinty; Kyle McFadden, John Mahon, Danny Kane, Lewis Banks; Kris Twardek, Daryl Fordyce, Regan Donelon (Niall Watson, 63), David Cawley; Romeo Parkes (Ronan Murray, 12), Rónán Coughlan.
Subs not used: Sam Warde, John Russell, Niall Morahan, Luke McNicholas, John Dunleavy.
Booked: Daryl Fordyce (17), Kyle McFadden (32), David Cawley (90+3).
Sent off: None.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Daniel Cleary, Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney (Robbie Benson, 28), Jamie McGrath, Chris Shields; Patrick Hoban (Georgie Kelly, 87), Daniel Kelly (Sean Murray, 68).
Subs not used: Andy Boyle, Cameron Dummigan, Dean Jarvis, Aaron McCarey.
Booked: Robbie Benson (56), Dane Massey (58), Patrick Hoban (70).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Robert Harvey.
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: John Mahon (Sligo Rovers).