FAI CUP FINAL PREVIEW | O’Donnell treating final like it could be his last
Lilywhites skipper warning against complacency
He already has three FAI Cup winners medals to his name but Stephen O’Donnell insists he will be treating Sunday’s final like it could be his last.
The Dundalk captain has been around the block long enough to know that cup finals don’t come around too often in a players career.
However, after three successive appearances at the Aviva Stadium, you could forgive some Dundalk fans for thinking that this is ‘the norm’.
O’Donnell, though, has warned people not to become complacent.
“The key is to enjoy the final because it all goes very quickly and you’ll probably look back when you retire and wish you had taken more of it in,” he told Dundalk Sport.
“That’s the way it is when you’re involved I suppose. You’re in your own little bubble but you don’t know when you’ll be in a cup final again.
“It’s easy to think that because we’ve been in it for the last three years we’re going to be there every year but that’s not the case.
“Finals are occasions to savour for players, fans, the whole town. Hopefully there are many more to come but you never know so you have to try and enjoy it as much as possible.”
The noises coming out of Cork suggest that the Leesiders are confident of completing a league and cup double. Of the four meetings between the sides this season, John Caulfield’s side are unbeaten, winning three games and drawing the other.
“Cork have probably got stronger in the past couple of seasons but when you look back on the games they’ve won, they weren’t as one-sided as they might have looked.
“In those games, the time when we conceded the first goal was probably at the stage where we were controlling things.
“We just need to be careful not to leave ourselves open when we’re in possession because I think the battle lines are drawn in the sense that people will know we like to attack and Cork sit in and be compact and try and catch you on the counter.
“We need to be aware of that and have our own game plan for Sunday. I’m sure if we execute that, we’ll have a good chance of coming out the right side.”
O’Donnell agrees that drawing first blood could well be decisive. Only once in the past five years has the team that scored first in a Dundalk v Cork City fixture lost the game — Richie Towell’s brace sinking Cork at Turner’s Cross in 2015 after Billy Dennehy had put the hosts in front.
“Like all of these tight games you see around the world, the first goal is huge,” said the 31-year-old.
“It’s rare a team comes from behind and wins after conceding because the margins are so tight. There normally doesn’t be loads of chances because teams are well drilled and don’t give up many opportunities so, yeah, the first goal will be huge.”
A win on Sunday would add another glorious chapter to O’Donnell’s career. Three league titles, two FAI Cups and two League Cups is a pretty impressive haul in a four-year spell.
“Don’t forget the Europa League,” he interrupts, “which is probably the best achievement of them all.
“Ah look, it’s great for anyone’s career. As I said, you can’t think that this is the norm.
“This is an unprecedented spell in any League of Ireland player’s career and if we win on Sunday it would definitely cap an incredible four years.”
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