City had been reduced to 10 men before half-time with the sending off of skipper Alan Bennett, but the visitors showed tremendous spirit to frustrate the Hoops until almost the last minute of extra-time when substitute James Doona popped up with the winner as penalties beckoned.
In front of a paltry attendance, both sides struggled to generate much of a big match atmosphere in the early stages, the game almost entirely lacking in goalmouth incident until 17 minutes in when Connor Ellis, the man with the big job of filling Sean Maguire’s boots, failed to direct a close-range header on target after being found at the far post by a Stephen Dooley corner.
Coming up to the half-hour mark, Rovers began to get a decent foothold in the game, Gary Shaw almost finishing a chance all of his own making, after first dispossessing Alan Bennett out on the left and then dribbling into the box where, from a tight angle, he found Mark McNulty making himself big to block the striker’s effort.
Things got worse for Bennett in the 37th minute, when just after Jimmy Keohane had fired a rocket which was well held by Tomer Chencinski, Rovers players were angrily swarming around the Cork skipper as David Webster was left in a heap on the ground. As matters threatened to boil over, referee Neil Doyle intervened to show a straight red to Bennett, forcing City boss John Caulfield to withdraw striker Ellis and send on Conor McCarthy to partner Ryan Delaney at centre-half.
The second period began with the Hoops dominating possession, looking to make the most of their man advantage. In the 52nd minute, it looked like they had done just that, when Ronan Finn hit a goal-bound screamer from 30 yards out but, not for the first time, McNulty proved his inestimable value to City by diving full length and producing a brilliant fingertip save to turn the ball against the post and away to safety.
In what was now effectively a game of attack versus defence, Cork were forced to keep everyone bar Karl Sheppard behind the ball.
In the 71st minute, a slick one-two between Graham Burke and Brandon Miele finally worked a clear opening in the box, but Miele’s low shot was just the wrong side of McNulty’s far post.
Otherwise, City’s defending was exemplary, Delaney leading the way with a series of timely interceptions, brave blocks, and towering headers.
As the game entered time added on, there was more off-the-ball drama as Caulfield was sent to the stands by the referee after protesting a late David Webster challenge on Stephen Dooley, meaning the City manager couldn’t then join his players on the pitch as they prepared to test their legs and concentration over another 30 minutes of extra time.
Then, in the 100th minute, it was Stephen Bradley’s turn to be furious with Neil Doyle when Shane Griffin appeared to push Simon Madden in the box only for the ref to wave away Rovers’ penalty claims.
City continued to frustrate Rovers, restricting them to shots from distance, until as the clock was ticking into the very final minute, substitute James Doona broke Cork’s resistance with a neat turn and shot which, via a deflection, finally beat McNulty to send the Hoops through to the final.
Chencinski, Madden, Byrne (Carpenter 58), Webster, Clarke, Connolly, Finn, Burke, McAllister (Doona 95), Miele, Shaw (O’Connor 1o2)
McNulty, Beattie (Morrissey 91), Bennett, Delaney, Griffin, Dooley, Keohane, Bolger, Buckley, Sheppard (Campion 102), Ellis (McCarthy 42)
Neil Doyle (Dublin)