DFC | Aviva here we come as Dundalk FC send Rovers packing in thrilling replay
FAI Cup semi-final | Shamrock Rovers 2–4 Dundalk FC
Dundalk will meet Cork City in the FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium for the third consecutive year after Stephen Kenny’s side came from behind to send Shamrock Rovers packing in an epic cup semi-final replay in Tallaght.
A thrilling encounter saw the teams locked at 2–2 after 90 minutes. Goals from David McMillan and Robbie Benson either side of the break wiped out Ronan Finn’s opener for Rovers, leaving Dundalk just five minutes away from a third successive cup final appearance.
Stephen Kenny’s side, however, were pegged back by a stunning header from teenager Michael O’Connor, who made the switch from Dundalk to Rovers at the end of last season.
It looked like penalties would decide the winner but McMillan’s 23rd goal of the season, in the 18th minute of extra-time, edged Dundalk towards the line and captain Stephen O’Donnell made sure of the win when he headed home six minutes later.
Both sides showed changes from the 1–1 draw at Oriel Park 10 days earlier. Rovers had to plan without the suspended David McAllister, who was sent-off in the first tie, and Aaron Bolger who was shown a red card for the Irish U19 team in their victory over Serbia earlier in the day.
Dave Webster was recalled to the back four with Roberto Lopes pushed into midfield alongside Ronan Finn, a cup winner with Dundalk in 2015, and Ryan Connolly.
For Dundalk, Patrick McEleney missed out after picking up a knock in training on Monday night with Jamie McGrath occupying the number 10 position behind McMillan.
Chris Shields, who was on the receiving end of the McAllister tackle in the previous match, was named on a youthful looking substitutes bench that included three of the club’s U19 squad.
Things didn’t take too long to warm up with Dylan Connolly forcing Tomer Chencinski into the first save of the night in side the opening minute, the Dundalk winger seeing his effort from a Jamie McGrath centre parried by the Hoops ‘keeper.
Dundalk’s bright start continued and they went agonisingly close to pulling ahead after six minutes when Michael Duffy combined brilliantly with David McMillan to break into the penalty area but a last-ditch challenge from Lopes saw the ball deflect just over the top.
It was Rovers, however, who drew first blood just two minutes later. Dundalk were unhappy when referee Paul McLaughlin awarded a free kick to the home side when Simon Madden looked to have caught David McMillan.
The subsequent delivery from Webster was only half cleared to the right-hand side of the Dundalk penalty area by Sean Hoare and Finn returned the ball with interest, arrowing a stunning volley past his former teammate Gary Rogers to give the Hoops the advantage.
The lead lasted just two minutes as Dundalk hit back with a fantastic team goal. Started at the back, a bout of swift passing saw the ball work its way to Sean Gannon on the right and when Chencinski flapped at his cross, McMillan was on hand to head home yet another goal in Tallaght.
Things continued to zip along nicely and Rovers should have restored their lead in the 24th minute when Clarke darted in behind Niclas Vemmelund on the right but he couldn’t keep his shot down with just Rogers to beat.
Things lost their way slightly after that but you still couldn’t take your eyes off things. Lee Grace headed wide despite finding space from a Rovers corner while McMillan flashed a half volley over the top before the half-time whistle brought an entertaining 45 minutes to a close.
The second half was just nine minutes old when Dundalk overturned the Rovers lead. Michael Duffy’s corner from the left was flicked towards goal and Benson was on hand to tap the ball over the line and edge Kenny’s side towards the Aviva.
The Lilywhites went in search of a killer third and Chencinski had to make three saves in quick succession, the best coming in the 58th minute when he parried Michael Duffy’s curler before gathering a McMillan header.
Rovers were given a lift just past the hour when Trevor Clarke cut in from the right to bend one towards goal, forcing Rogers into a decent stop, the veteran goalkeeper getting down to push it away.
Dundalk regained control after that and despite losing the pace of Connolly through injury in the 69th minute, they looked relatively comfortable with Rovers lacking any spark.
Bradley, however, came up trumps with his final throw of the dice when O’Connor, who was introduced from the bench just four minutes earlier, found himself in the perfect position to thump a Trevor Clarke cross past Rogers.
Extra-time loomed large but Dundalk still had to endure a heart stopping moment in the dying seconds when Rogers pushed a Simon Madden drive up in the air only to gather the ball safely as it dropped towards his goal.
The hosts enjoyed the better of the opening period of extra-time but it was McMillan who sent a fierce drive whistling over the top when he maybe should have opted to play the supporting McGrath.
Things spilled over when Bradley and O’Donnell went head to head on the sideline. Both sets of players, and their respective benches piled in with Gannon and O’Donnell booked for Dundalk, the Rovers fitness coach Darren Dillon sent to the stand and Clarke cautioned.
The second period of extra time was just three minutes old when Dundalk struck the decisive blow, McMillan burying a half volley past Chencinski after Rovers failed to clear a Shane Grimes cross.
And O’Donnell secured Dundalk’s passage to the final on November 5th when he looped an unstoppable header over Chencinski to ensure another glorious night in South County Dublin for Stephen Kenny’s side.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Tomer Chencinski; Simon Madden, Dave Webster, Lee Grace, Luke Byrne (Cameron King 73); Ronan Finn, Roberto Lopes (Michael O’Connor 81), Ryan Connolly (James Doona 60); Trevor Clarke, Gary Shaw, Brandon Miele. Subs not used: Kevin Horgan (GK), Dean Carpenter, Sean Boyd, Darren Clarke.
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Niclas Vemmelund (Shane Grimes HT); Stephen O’Donnell, Robbie Benson; Dylan Connolly (Tommy Stewart 69), Jamie McGrath, Michael Duffy (Chris Shields 106); David McMillan. Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (GK), Carlton Ubaezuonu, Jake O’Connor, Jack O’Keeffe.
REFEREE: Paul McLaughlin. ATTENDANCE: 3,437.