Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
The romance of the Leinster Senior Cup was alive and kicking at Oriel Park on Monday night as a second-string Dundalk were stunned by Athlone Town, who recorded an impressive 1-0 win.
A goal in the second half from substitute Dean Williams – a recent loan signing from Shamrock Rovers – was enough to see the Midlands outfit progress to the quarter-finals of the competition.
Dundalk handed debuts to new recruits Aaron McCarey and Jordan Flores, while four members of the under-19 squad – Lido Lotefa, Dylan Hand, Mark Hanratty and Aaron McNally – also started.
Athlone, who finished rock bottom of the First Division last season, started with several new signings including Darren Meenan, who played over 100 league games for Dundalk between 2013 and 2016.
The Lilywhites created the first meaningful chance of this Leinster Senior Cup tie when Dean Jarvis floated in a cross from the left which was met by the outstretched leg of Lotefa, who diverted over.
Chances were not at a premium throughout what was a dire opening period but Athlone had the better of the opportunities as Kaleem Simon’s shot from outside the area was saved by McCarey.
The visitors went close once again when Dundalk’s young right-back McNally was dispossessed by Simon, who played in the scampering Dean Casey but the former Bohemians left-full shot wide.
Athlone midfielder Meenan – who won three League of Ireland titles as a Dundalk player – rolled a free-kick into the path of Kealan Dillon who flashed an effort wide of McCarey’s near post.
The sides went into the break scoreless but Vinny Perth’s side almost went ahead four minutes after the restart when Lotefa, after being played through by Hanratty, forced a save out of Aaron Myles.
Flores, one of six debutants for Dundalk, produced a piece of magic with a left-footed shot but Myles was equal to it, and the Athlone stopper denied Daniel Kelly from the resulting rebound.
At the other end, Athlone were denied what looked to be a reasonable case for a penalty when John Morgan appeared to be taken down by McCarey, who had just spilled an effort from Rhys Gorman.
The injured Morgan was replaced by Dean Williams and he put Athlone into a shock lead in the 66th minute, turning the ball home after a cross from Simon, cue jubilant scenes from the visiting bench.
Simon – who made his name at Longford Town and Bohs – was outstanding throughout the night and his rasping long-range effort forced McCarey into a decent save as Athlone looked for a second.
Dundalk substitute Jordan Maguire was dispossessed by Dillon, who did excellently to take the ball both around him and Stephen Folan before unleashing a shot that sailed narrowly wide of the post.
Georgie Kelly, who endured an extremely quiet night in front of goal, almost drew the Lilywhites level when he headed over from a Jarvis free-kick from the left with less than ten minutes remaining.
The hosts almost grabbed what would have been an undeserved equaliser but captain for the night Daniel Clearly, unmarked, could head only straight into the arms of Myles from a Jarvis corner.
Georgie Kelly missed a guilt-edged chance right at the death before Simon almost wrapped it up at the other end as Athlone held on to record a famous win, their first against Dundalk since 2006.
Dundalk: Aaron McCarey; Aaron McNally, Daniel Cleary, Stephen Folan, Dean Jarvis; Dylan Hand, Jordan Flores (Jordan Maguire 73); Daniel Kelly, Lido Lotefa, Mark Hanratty; Georgie Kelly.
Subs not used: Ross Treacy (gk), Cian Lee, Mark Traynor, Jamie Wynne, James Carroll.
Booked: Dean Jarvis (80).
Athlone Town: Aaron Myles; Evan White, Ciaran Grogan, Gavin Kearney, Dean Casey; Darren Meenan (Sodiq Oguntola 90+2), Rhys Gorman (Aaron Brilly 63), Kealan Dillon, Shane Dunne, Kaleem Simon; John Morgan (Dean Williams 58).
Subs not used: Gargar Ta-Uway (gk), Kyle Hogan, Josh Hogan, Cian Byrne.
Booked: Kealan Dillon (39), Shane Dunne (45), Kaleem Simon (45+1).
Referee: Alan Carey.
Attendance: 250 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Kaleem Simon (Athlone Town).