Dundalk have clinched the league and cup double for the second time in four years after Patrick McEleney scored an unlikely header to secure the FAI cup.
McEleney was an unsuspecting presence with a brilliant run from deep and he was on hand to meet Sean Gannon’s perfect cross with a thunderous header which Cork’s goalkeeper Mark McNulty could not keep out in the seventy-third minute. His decisive goal was the best part of the game in which there were few clear chances.
It was a raucous affair in front of 30,000 spectators in the Aviva Stadium featuring hardcore fans from Cork, Dundalk and neutrals alike. The match looked set to be a feisty one from the beginning with smoke flares being fired from both sets of fans.
The match started aggressively with fouls coming in from both sides. Other than that the action was scarce between but Dundalk were arguably the better side in the early stages.
The final did liven up in the eighteenth minute when Dundalk deservedly led through defender Sean Hoare who scored with a free header after he was left unmarked following their first corner of the game.
However the joy only lasted mere seconds as the goalscorer quickly turned culprit in dramatic fashion. He was deemed to have fouled Cork forward Karl Sheppard in the penalty box and the referee had no choice but to blow his whistle.
Kieran Sadlier was the hero who slotted home the pivotal penalty in last year’s penalty shootout, and the midfielder replicated his heroics when he tucked the ball home with ease this time around again.
The sudden upturn in action did not stop there. The drama culminated in some last ditch defending from the champions as Cork’s Shane Griffin had to clear the ball off the line following another Dundalk corner.
The rest of the half played out with Dundalk having more possession of the ball and Cork City being resilient.
Patrick Hoban, whose 29 goals in the league helped propel Dundalk to the league championship, did not have much of a say in the game. However, he was quick to pounce on some careless play from Cork and unleashed a rasping shot which was parried away in the 68th minute.
After McEleney’s goal went in, Cork City made attacking substitutions and were more exposed at the back as they searched for an equalising goal. Dundalk could have sealed it in the closing stages when Michael Duffy was through on goal following a swift counter attack, but he could not beat Mark McNulty.
The reigning champions did create some nervy moments for Dundalk, notably when Sadlier’s deflected effort from long range forced goalkeeper Gary Rogers to tip the ball over the bar. Dundalk withstood late pressure and were successful in denying Cork City a third consecutive FAI Cup title.
Speaking after the match, Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny reflected on the final. He said: “It was a great feeling to win it. It was a late enough winner. We won and lost here [The Aviva]. And when you lose, it’s a lonely lonely place, you know. To win it in the manner where we played well, pushed and pushed and eventually we knocked on the door. And the euphoric nature of winning like that is really special.
“The players deserve huge credit for the way they kept at it when things weren’t really going for us. In the end [we] won the game.”