Denis Hurley picks out five talking points from Dundalk's FAI Cup final victory.
Steady evolution for the Lilywhites
Of the Dundalk team which started yesterday, five of them — Gary Rogers, Seán Gannon, Dane Massey, Brian Gartland and Chris Shields — started the 2015 decider against Cork City, the start of this duopoly of cup-final day. In addition, John Mountney came off the bench in that clash.
Mountney is the only attacking player in that sextet, with Stephen Kenny constantly having to replenish his offensive options as top performers earn the attentions of British sides.
It’s obviously a tricky task to hit upon the right balance but their 85 goals in 36 games this season equalled the 2.36 ratio of the imperious 2015 campaign.
Of the City team that began in 2015, only four were present — Mark McNulty, Alan Bennett, Garry Buckley and Karl Sheppard. John Caulfield has had to effect greater changes and with some key players set to depart, he will have to do so again.
Shielding the strife
In contrast to the retention levels from the 2015 final, only one Dundalk player remains from the 2012 promotion-relegation play-off with Waterford — midfielder Chris Shields.
Having finished second from bottom in the Premier Division that season, they have never been lower than second from top in the years since and Shields has embodied the transformation, winning four league medals and now two FAI Cups in the process.
He may have been lucky to stay on the field yesterday but Cork City manager John Caulfield didn’t quibble with Neil Doyle’s decision, acknowledging Shields plays on the edge. It’s an edge which stood to Dundalk in the past six years.
McEleney glad he headed home
Like Trevor Brooking, Patrick McEleney hasn’t scored too many with his head but has now enshrined such a strike in FAI Cup final folklore.
At the end of last year, the Derry native departed for Oldham Athletic but couldn’t fully settle in Lancashire and it suited both parties for him to return to Dundalk during the summer.
With no need for an adaptation period, he slotted straight back into the side and had the decisive say in the season to clinch the double.
The FAI receive plenty of criticism, often justified, but offering FAI Cup final tickets for €10 is a fine gesture and one that was rewarded yesterday with an attendance of 30,412.
While there may have been concerns that the same two teams clashing for the fourth successive year would lead to attendee-fatigue, especially among neutrals, this was an increase of more than 6,000 on last year. 26,400 saw the 2016 final and 25,103 were present in 2015.
Since 1968, the only other final to break the 30,000 mark was in 2010, when Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers played the first decider in the Aviva before a crowd of 36,101, with the estimate for the 1989 meeting of Bray Wanderers and St Francis standing at around 29,000.
Sadlier completes the set
Last year, Kieran Sadlier scored in the first three rounds of the cup but not in the semi-final, though he did kick the winning penalty in the decider.
This time round, he was on target in every game, including a hat-trick away to Longford Town in the quarter-finals, and it was another spot-kick which earned him entry to the exclusive club.
Only Eric Barber (Shelbourne, 1960), Mick Lawlor (Shamrock Rovers, 1968) and Charlie Terry (Finn Harps, 1974) had previously managed to net in each round and the strike brought Sadlier to 24 goals for the season — all the more impressive given that he was playing on the left wing.
Unfortunately for City, with Sadlier now out of contract, it was likely to have been his last goal for the club.