DFC | Heartbreak for Dundalk FC at the Aviva again as Leesiders complete double
FAI Cup Final 2017 | Dundalk FC 1–1 Cork City | AET Cork City win 5–3 on penalties
After a week in which his off the field antics were called into question, Cork City goalkeeper Mark McNulty had the last laugh, saving Michael Duffy’s penalty in a shootout to help his side to the league and cup double.
In front of a crowd of 24,210, it looked like Dundalk were on their way to an 11th FAI Cup triumph when Niclas Vemmelund — possibly making his last appearance for the club — broke the deadlock by popping up with a brilliant header, five minutes into the first period of extra time.
Substitute Achille Campion, however, forced a shootout when he broke the offside trap to leave Man of the Match Gary Rogers helpless with just eight minutes to play.
Duffy, who had a good game, was the unlucky one in the lottery that followed and Kieran Sadlier’s excellent penalty secured the Leesiders their second win over Dundalk at the national stadium in the space of 12 months.
After a couple of tight affairs in the previous two finals, there can’t have been too many people who would have expected the kind of start we got to this one.
Both sides went toe to toe in the opening 20 minutes with the Leesiders shading it on points and but for Gary Rogers, they would have been in front.
Central to their good start was Karl Sheppard who was playing his last game for Cork before jumping the divide and signing for Dundalk.
The Dubliner looked intent on bowing out with a bang and he proved to be a real thorn in the side of Brian Gartland and Niclas Vemmelund who both struggled to contain him.
Despite that, it was Dundalk who were the first side to work the goalkeepers on show, Jamie McGrath’s effort across goal pushed away by Mark McNulty after he was located by Robbie Benson in a pocket of space.
Rogers had to make his first stop of the game to prevent Sheppard from giving Cork the lead after 12 minutes, the striker flicking a Stephen Dooley cross goalwards only to see the Meathman block it with his feet.
The open nature of things continued and Benson picked out another clever pass in the 16th minute, popping it into the left channel for Duffy but his effort proved to be food and drink for McNulty.
A magnificent double save by Rogers kept Dundalk on level terms two minutes later, the veteran ‘keeper parrying Stephen Dooley’s fierce attempt before skipping across his line to claw away Sheppard’s follow up.
Dundalk fans were gearing up for a minute’s applause in honour of the late Robert ‘Foods’ McLoughlin in the 29th minute when the Lilywhites almost drew first blood with their best opening of the half.
Michael Duffy, who provided an outlet throughout, pounced on a poor touch by Steven Beattie to cut in and let fly. McNulty could only push the drive away with McMillan’s follow up from 12 yards going agonisingly past the post.
Dundalk enjoyed a couple of good spells of possession after that with Patrick McEleney becoming more prominent. The Derryman’s most positive involvement was a fine lofted pass into McMillan earlier in the half but the striker just couldn’t get enough purchase to lift it over McNulty.
Playing towards their own sets of supporters, both sides set about making a positive start to the second half with Jimmy Keohane testing Rogers in the 49th minute.
That proved to be Cork’s last real opening of the half, however, as Vemmelund, and especially Gartland, defended brilliantly.
At the other end, Benson and McMillan, who were both under the watchful eye of St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright, almost combined shortly after, giving the Lilywhite Army some encouragement.
Things looked like they were beginning to heat up just short of the hour mark when McNulty, quite embarrassingly, hit the deck after Gartland ran past him on the way back from a corner.
McMillan was first to call the 37-year-old out for his play acting with referee Paul McLaughlin doing well to calm things down before it really boiled over.
McNulty got back to the day job in the 63rd minute, saving a header from the incoming Benson who timed his run perfectly to meet a McGrath cross.
It signalled a good spell for Dundalk who controlled possession but just couldn’t find the incisive pass to open a watertight City backline up.
Both managers made positive changes with Caulfield introducing Sadlier for Jimmy Keohane and Kenny sending on Dylan Connolly for McGrath with 19 minutes to play.
It was Dundalk who looked to force it but Cork almost stole it right at the death when Dooley hung a cross to the back post for Sheppard.
His header across goal was deflected goalwards by Garry Buckley but Rogers made an incredible stop to not only keep the ball out but clear it from the danger of a packed six-yard box.
That proved to be the last action of the 90 minutes but Dundalk were forced into a change before extra time began when a busted up Brian Gartland was replaced by Sean Hoare.
It was Hoare and Gartland’s defensive partner who grabbed the headlines five minutes later, Vemmelund meeting Duffy’s vicious free-kick to power a stunning header past McNulty and speak scenes of delirium amongst the Dundalk supporters.
Caulfield reacted by making a double substitution with Achille Campion and Greg Bolger coming on but Dundalk saw it through to half time in extra time looking extremely comfortable.
Substitute Sadlier fired a wayward effort off target as Cork struggled to get going but the sides were back on level terms with eight minutes to play.
Sheppard was involved, his looping pass over the top picking out Campion and with Dane Massey playing him just onside, he made no mistake to lash the ball past the exposed Rogers.
Buoyed by the goal, it was Cork who went in search of a winner but for the seventh time in the last nine years it took a shootout to decide the winner.
Both sides converted with their first three efforts but the pivotal moment arrived when McNulty got down to his right to push away Michael Duffy’s spot kick.
That afforded Cork a shot at the double and Sadlier didn’t pass it up, driving his effort past Rogers to sink a cruel dagger into Dundalk’s heart for the second year in a row.
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland (Sean Hoare 90), Niclas Vemmelund, Dane Massey; Robbie Benson, Stephen O’Donnell; Jamie McGrath (Dylan Connolly 71), Patrick McEleney (John Mountney 108), Michael Duffy; David McMillan. Subs not used: Chris Shields, Shane Grimes, Tommy Stewart, Gabriel Sava (GK).
CORK CITY: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie, Alan Bennett, Ryan Delaney, Shane Griffin; Conor McCormack, Gearoid Morrissey (Greg Bolger 98); Jimmy Keohane (Kieran Sadlier 58), Garry Buckley (Achille Campion 98), Stephen Dooley; Karl Sheppard. Subs not used: Connor Ellis, Conor McCarthy, Robbie Williams, Alan Smith (GK).
REFEREE: Paul McLaughlin. ATTENDANCE: 24,210.