Dundalk’s treble dream is still on although the champions needed Michael Duffy’s 89th-minute winner to break Sligo Rovers’ resolve in yesterday’s Extra.ie FAI Cup semi-final at The Showgrounds.
In front of an attendance of 4,079, Dundalk’s usual smooth settings were scrambled by the hosts’ resilience but the winners’ goalkeeper Gary Rogers felt the champions deserved their place in the final.
“It wasn’t one of our best games to look at, but it was a different kind of win for us – we got there in the end,” said the Meath native, a medal winner with Sligo before claiming numerous accolades in Dundalk.
“We controlled large portions of the game without having a lot of clearcut chances. I think we were full value for the win although if it had been a draw that would have been a fair result as well.”
The stats certainly favoured a Dundalk win. The holders were on a 29-game unbeaten run in all competitions domestically, with their last defeat coming in a Premier Division game against Sligo at The Showgrounds on April 12.
The visitors were looking to book a fifth successive FAI Cup final appearance, with Sligo aiming for their first Aviva Stadium date since 2013 when they last won the competition.
Dundalk were on the front foot from the off, Jamie McGrath looking lively, with Sligo hampered by a seventh-minute injury for top scorer Romeo Parkes. The striker returned to the fray with his left knee bandaged but was forced to leave within two minutes.
Sligo could call upon a more than useful replacement, former Dundalk player Ronan Murray, but it was still the champions who were calling the tune.
Ronan Coughlan was emerging as a selfless worker up front for Sligo, who threatened from a 21st-minute set-piece but John Mahon headed David Cawley’s delivery wide.
Coughlan appealed for a spot-kick after a challenge on him by Daniel Cleary in the Dundalk penalty area – but none of the officials agreed – and then Dundalk were forced into a reshuffle when injury ended Patrick McEleney’s evening.
Sligo, whose biggest route to causing Dundalk problems was from set-pieces, could take some credit for keeping Dundalk scoreless in the opening half and for this they needed goalkeeper Ed McGinty’s smart save at his near post to parry Sean Hoare’s goalbound header from a 39th-minute corner.
Dundalk still hadn’t forced Sligo goalkeeper Ed McGinty into a significant save but that almost changed three minutes after the restart when Jamie McGrath was just wide with a deft curling shot.
Patrick Hoban’s first opening forced Ed McGinty to be alert and save well – after the excellent Chris Shields created the move – as Dundalk always looked capable of moving up through the gears.
Sligo kept their energy levels up, however, and Kris Twardek became more prominent on the home side’s right flank, while centre-back John Mahon’s resilience denied numerous Dundalk attacks.
Chris Shields went close to stealing a result for Dundalk with 10 minutes remaining but his shot was just wide. They went even closer in the 84th minute but busy substitute Sean Murray somehow flashed a shot over from close-range.
Just when it looked like Sligo would hold on for a replay at Oriel Park, Dundalk struck for the game’s only goal after 89 minutes when Sean Murray’s dinked free-kick into a crowded penalty area was eventually swept home by Michael Duffy.
The first-half penalty decision that wasn’t given was highlighted by Sligo boss Liam Buckley afterwards.
“That incident with Ronan Coughlan done my head in – it was a penalty. It would have been a different game if we got it, we would have gone 1-0 up.
“That said, the referee [Rob Harvey] didn’t see it was a penalty – how I just don’t know.
“There wasn’t a lot in the game – I thought they were marginally better,” Buckley added.
McGinty; Banks, Callan-McFadden, Mahon, Kane; Twardek, Fordyce, Cawley, Donelon (Watson 63); Parkes (Murray 12), Coughlan
Rogers; Gannon, Cleary, Hoare, Massey; Kelly (Murray 68), Shields, McGrath, McEleney (Benson 28), Duffy; Hoban (Kelly 86)