By Liam Mackey
John Caulfield was an understandably happy man yesterday as he allowed the scale of the club’s double-double achievement to sink in.
“To be fair to the women’s team, Frank Kelleher has done phenomenal work as manager and it was brilliant for them to win because they’d never even scored against UCD. We’d watched that game on the TV.
“For ourselves, I thought we played well and had chances in the first half. Second half Dundalk tore into the game and put us on the back foot and we couldn’t get a real grip even though we could have won it with the last kick of the game.
“In extra time you go one down and you think you’re gone but this team have massive determination and massive belief in themselves. We said to them at half-time in extra-time that we would get an opportunity so to just keep going and throw caution to the wind. The new players that came on the park gave us legs, and Campion did brilliantly with his finish.
“When it goes to penalties you’re always wondering, but we practice a lot of penalties and we kept just saying, ‘do what you do every day in training: keep your head and pick your spot’. McNulty makes the save and Sadlier gets the winner. Winning the double, it’s a phenomenal achievement for the club.”
Caulfield said he wasn’t a bit surprised by how ‘keeper McNulty had responded on the day to having found himself at the centre of some controversy in the build-up to the final.
“Mark McNulty is a fantastic goalkeeper. Anyone that knows him in the League of Ireland, every player that knows him, knows he’s a joker, a fella with a bit of craic. But he’s a total professional and a great guy. He’s been a phenomenal goalkeeper for me and for this club. Nothing about today would have surprised me. His performance was outstanding.
“But to be fair to the team, there was real determination about them. In the league, since the run-in, the club maybe didn’t get the credit it deserves but history will look back on this team and see what they did — winning the first 21 of 22 games, losing our goalscorer and captain — people will reflect and realise this was a phenomenal team, one of the best teams in the league, maybe ever.
“Despite the fact we lost three key players and things became tough, they had the mental toughness to dig it out.
“That certainly stood to us today, to come back in extra time. These are a phenomenal bunch of boys. I just said to them there afterwards: As a group of players you’ll never be together again. You need to look around and see the guys here and remember that these are all the guys you won the double with.
“Tomorrow night will be a special night back in Cork.
“I’m just so thrilled for the supporters. They all left their houses at 6am, 7am. People forget that and the cost to come up here. And we have over 10,000 here. We had more than 100,000 people come through the door at Turner’s Cross over the season.
“It’s phenomenal for the club and the supporters and the one thing I’ll say, I have a phenomenal back room team, so loyal to me, absolutely phenomenal people. John Cotter, Liam Kearney, Michael Punch, Lisa Fallon, Phil Harrington. They work so hard and are 100% behind me which is incredible as a manager because that doesn’t happen too often.”`
For Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny, it was harder to find the words to sum up the day. “Listen we’re disappointed, it’s a cruel way to lose and I can’t fault the players, they gave everything for 120 minutes. I had to take two players off in extra-time that were injured, Brian Gartland and Patrick McEleney. We probably could have taken one or two others off but we’d used the substitutes and that’s the nature of it.
“Overall I thought the players were brilliant and it’s a cruel way to lose it. You put so much into it, you work so hard, but, you know, it’s a penalty shootout and very fine margins. It’s a harsh way to lose, a very harsh way to lose.”