Dundalk 1, Cork City 1 (AET)… Cork won 5-3 on pens
By Noel Spillane
Kieran Sadlier and Mark McNulty were the spot kick heroes as Cork City won their first ever double in the club’s history with a 5-3 shoot out victory over Dundalk before 20,000 excited and emotional fans at the Aviva Stadium this evening.
McNulty, something of a hate figure with Dundalk fans dived to save Michael Duffy’s effort and then Sadlier stepped up to shoot home and shoot John Caulfield’s league champions into the record books.
Cork City have followed in the footsteps of Cork United (1941) and Cork Athletic (1951) as double champions as Karl Sheppard,, Greg Bolger, Conor McCormack and Seven Beattie all netted from 12 yards.
Danish defender Niclas Vemmelund, in his last game, was minutes away from giving Dundalk FAI Cup glory with a 95th minute goal against league champions Cork City before French front man Achille Campion scored a 112th minute equaliser.
It was stalemate at the end of 90 minutes but Cork so nearly won it in the two minutes added time before extra-time with Gary Rogers saving from Alan Bennett and their double hopes looked to be dashed by the Dane before City’s French resistance took the final to a shoot-out.
City fans outnumbered their Dundalk counterparts in a crowd of 20,000 plus – well below the predicted 26,000 for this trilogy of Cup finals between the two best and most consistent teams in the country.
It was a cagey opening quarter as Cork forced two early corners and won free kicks and after McNulty saved Paddy McEleney’s chip and Dundalk survived a Niclas Vemmelund mis-kick, the Lilywhites created a good chance when McEleney and Benson combined to set up Jamie McGrath but McNulty got down smartly to save his low drive.
Stephen Dooley had a free punched clear by Gary Rogers after ten minutes and then Sean Gannon headed clear as Sheppard tried to pick out Dooley in front of goal.
Rogers made an instinctive stop with his feet to keep out Sheppard’s 12th minute flick after Griffin and Dooley set up the chance.
Cork were the better team in the opening 20 minutes and would have been a goal up on 18 minutes but for a superb double save by Rogers as he denied Dooley’s low drive and Sheppard’s hooked effort.
Dundalk weathered the storm and applied some pressure of their own as McNulty dived to push away Michael Duffy’s curler and then David McMillan, on the radar of Scottish side, St Johnstone turned the loose ball wide on the half hour.
Then McEleney supplied a teasing cross for McMillan, who had scored in every round of the competition, but he headed wide as the half ended goalless.
On the restart, and with City 45 minutes away from that elusive double, McNulty had to take the persistent abuse of the Dundalk fans as he defended the goal at the Havelock Square end.
Jimmy Keohane had the first sight of goal with a curling left footer that was easily saved by Rogers and while Dundlak dominated the second spell, it was City who nearly won it in the two minutes of added time.
Dooley’s dinked cross to the far post was headed back for Alan Bennett but Rogers clawed away his effort off the line and we went to extra-time for the third final in a row.
Karl Sheppard’s delicate ball over the top fed Campion and he fired home through Rogers’ legs with Dane Massey playing him on side in a dramatic climax to the night.
(4-2-3-1) - McNulty; Beattie, Bennett (capt), Delaney, Griffin; McCormack, Morrissey; Keohane, Buckley, Dooley’ Sheppard.
Subs. Sadlier for Keohane (58 mins), Bolger & Campion for Morrissey & Buckley (both 98 mins), Ellis, McCarthy, Williams & Smith (not used)
(4-2-3-1) - Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Vemmelund, Massey; O’Donnell (capt), Benson; McGrath, McEleney, Duffy; McMillan.
Subs. Connolly for McGrath (71 mins), Hoare for Gartland (injured extra-time), Mountney for McEleney (108 mins), Shields, Grimes, Stewart & Sava (not used)
Paul McLauglin (Monaghan)
FAI Cup final Key Moments,:
Cork enjoy the majority of early possession but its Dundalk’s Jamie McGrath who comes closest to breaking the deadlock, forcing Mark McNulty into a fine stop following good Robbie Benson approach work.
Dundalk are indebted to Gary Rogers as the veteran goalkeeper parries Stephen Dooley’s initial effort before preventing Karl Sheppard’s rebound from hitting the net.
Michael Duffy cuts in and his shot stings Mark McNulty’s gloves but an off-balance David McMillan is unable to divert the rebound into the net, missing the target by inches.
Gary Rodgers denies Cork City the FAI Cup with a magnificent injury-time save. The Dundalk goalkeeper scoops Alan Bennett’s goal-bound header away to take the final to extra time.
Dundalk’s Danish defender Niclas Vemmelund directs a bullet header into the top corner from a Micheal Duffy free-kick.
Substitute Achille Campion takes the ball down on his chest from a beautiful Karl Sheppard pass before arrowing home a Cork City equaliers.
Mark McNulty's save.
Cork City’s league and cup double is all the more remarkable considering the club was on the brink of extinction only a few short years ago. Sunday’s victory was as sweet for the management and playing staff as it was for the dedicated group of supporters that kept Cork City alive during some dark days.
City’s male and female teams deserve every plaudit coming their way following one of the most historic afternoons in the club’s history. More importantly, an even brighter future beckons for one of the League of Ireland’s most progressive organisations.
Winning a League and FAI Cup double is just reward for John Caulfield and his backroom team considering Cork City’s consistency throughout the 2017 campaign.
An impressive record of 24 wins, 4 draws and 5 league losses plus an undefeated cup run cements the Leesiders status as the best club in the country. Add to that, Cork overcoming a late-season Dundalk surge and John Caulfield has even more reason to be proud of his players’ achievements.
Adding the League of Ireland’s most famous knockout trophy to a bulging cabinet sets Cork City FC for even more honours once again next year.
Having the two best defences in the country on the same pitch suggested chances would be hard to come by in this year’s FAI Cup final. So it proved as Cork’s back four delivered another diligent display.
Whenever Cork’s defence was breached, Mark McNulty showed why he is ranked amongst the best goalkeepers in the league. A string of impressive saves saw McNulty repel Dundalk’s attacks throughout normal and extra time.
As if to underline the point, McNulty’s save from Michael Duffy’s penalty setup Kieran Sadlier to edge the shootout in City’s favour.
Martin O’Neill could be forgiven for a wry smile when Denmark native Niclas Vemmelund popped up to score the opening goal in this year’s cup final.
Ahead of the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup play-off, the Dane planted a superb header into the top corner from Michael Duffy’s set piece delivery. Not to be outdone, Cork City responded with their French import, Achille Campion, equalising with a smashing effort.
For all the League of Ireland’s home-grown talent, it is two foreign players along with Mark McNulty who will dominate the coming day’s newspaper headlines.
Cork City and Dundalk’s recent cup final meetings have been dull affairs which made the openness of this year’s matchup and subsequent penalty shootout a pleasant surprise.
Both managers deserve credit for their willingness to adopt a more adventurous approach, especially in the first half, leading to an entertaining spectacle at the Aviva Stadium and for those watching on television.
Granted, both teams tired, resulting in a slower tempo but the League of Ireland will attract a lot more interest and punters back to their grounds if next season’s high profile matches are of a similar quality.