Cork City have earned an unwelcome reputation in the league this season as the team which just can’t get over the line, shedding points like confetti through the serial concession of late goals.
And now the same flaw has cost them a place in the final of the Setanta Cup as, with what was virtually the last kick of the game in a disbelieving Turner’s Cross, former Cork City man Billy Dennehy found the net to make it 2-2 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate, and send Shamrock Rovers through to the decider on away goals.
The silence of the Shed End and the sight of Cork players lying on the turf, heads in hands, summed up yet another night of sickening heartbreak on Leeside, while the celebrating Hoops support behind Mark McNulty’s goal could hardly believe their unlikely reprieve.
There had been mixed team news in advance of kick-off for City manager Tommy Dunne, Colin Healy’s absence through suspension and John Dunleavy’s through illness offset by the return from injury of Shane Duggan and the fact that concern earlier in the week about the fitness of Daryl Horgan and Danny Murphy didn’t prevent them taking their places in the starting line-up.
There were even bigger changes for Shamrock Rovers, with Ken Oman and Mark Quigley on the injured list though Derek Foran recovered from a groin strain in time to start. But, coming off the back of a league defeat to Derry City, Hoops manager Trevor Croly also chose to shake up his side, with James Chambers, Sean O’Connor, Danny Ledwith and Ciarán Kilduff – who had all begun the first leg of this Setanta semi — relegated to the bench last night, as Gary McCabe, Billy Dennehy, Karl Sheppard and Tommy Stewart came into the starting line-up.
Daryl Kavanagh’s superb away goal for City in Tallaght meant that Rovers had to score last night, and there was an appropriate urgency to their play right from the kick-off. The visitors had their first sight of goal on four minutes but, though crisply struck, the free-kick from Billy Dennehy – whose brother Darren was in the heart of the opposition defence – was safely handled by Mark McNulty despite the slanting sun shining directly into the keeper’s eyes.
Cork responded with a Daryl Horgan half-volley which was defected wide and, from the corner, Rovers ‘keeper Barry Murphy did well to smother a clever Gearóid Morrissey flick, as the home side showed they had no intention this early on of trying to sit on their away goal lead.
But, despite the invariably clever movement of Daryl Kavanagh and some electric bursts up the right flank from Ian Turner, Cork were unable to work Barry Murphy in the Rovers goal while, at the opposite end of the pitch, McNulty too remained underemployed as both sides cancelled each other out — until right on the stroke of half-time.
Kavanagh, not surprisingly, was the one who sucked in the Rovers defence as he worked the ball across the face of the penalty area but it was Daryl Horgan’s bobbling shot which, though Murphy managed to get a hand to it, bounced up against the post and, almost in slow motion, spun over the goal-line and into the net.
Yet, though the break found City 2-1 up on aggregate, it didn’t materially change Rovers’ original task – they still had to score to stay in the tie. But it was Cork, with Turner again a menace to the visitors’ rearguard, who resumed firmly on the offensive, as Hoops struggled to clear their lines.
Manager Trevor Croly attempted to turn the tide by sending James Chambers on for Tommy Stewart, creating a five-man midfield and pushing Karl Sheppard to the apex of the attack. And it was Chambers, a real steadying influence, who provided the first goal threat, getting forward from deep to fire a low right-footed drive just wide of the far post.
Barry Murphy did well to tip an angled Danny Furlong shot over the top as City countered, the tie still balanced on the knife-edge of the hosts’ narrow lead. And, in the 72nd minute, it was all-square over the two legs, Stephen Rice’s shot from outside the area taking a looping deflection off Darren Dennehy to leave McNulty helpless in the Cork goal.
With just four minutes remaining, a great Pat Sullivan block denied what looked like it would be the winning goal for Daryl Horgan but the let-off was brief for Rovers, as a Turner corner was headed on by Morrissey and Kavanagh swivelled at the back post to hook the ball into the roof of the net.
But, even as the Shed End celebrated – and with what can only be described as a terrible sense of inevitability for Cork — Billy Dennehy came back to haunt his former employers two minutes into stoppage time, his free-kick from outside the box finding the net off the inside of the post. There was barely time for City to kick off again before the final whistle blew, putting the Hoops through to the final of the Setanta Cup and leaving Cork to, once again, bemoan those late, late blows.
CORK CITY: McNulty, N. Horgan, D. Murray, Dennehy, Murphy, Turner, Duggan, G. Morrissey, D. Horgan, Furlong (Buckley 76) Kavanagh
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Murphy, Sullivan, Elebert (Cilduff, Foran, Powell (Ledwith 17), McCabe, Finn, Rice, Dennehy, Sheppard, Stewart
Referee: Padraig Sutton (Clare).