Hope-and-history final as Hoops bid to stop Dundalk’s march towards treble

A match between two teams who have provided nine of the 11 players in the 2019 PFAI team of the year.

Hope-and-history final as Hoops bid to stop Dundalk’s march towards treble

The top two in the league going head to head on the biggest stage in Irish football.

A match between two teams who have provided nine of the 11 players in the 2019 PFAI team of the year.

The presence of class, game-changing talents like Jack Byrne, Graham Burke, Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney, Aaron Greene, and Pat Hoban, augmented by a wealth of experience and big characters, like Joey O’Brien, Sean Gannon, Ronan Finn, Alan Mannus, and Gary Rogers.

One side on the brink of a double-double and only the second treble in the history of the Irish game.

The other desperate to end a 32-year wait and reassert their historic status as leaders in the field in the FAI Cup.

However you want to bill it, tomorrow’s FAI Cup Final at the Aviva has a Hollywood blockbuster feel to it and, with both Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers committed to an expansive style of attacking football, there’s every reason to hope that, on this big occasion, ambition will outweigh caution to provide us with a decider to remember.

“I think it will be,” says Hoops manager Stephen Bradley.

I think you’ve got two teams who won’t try and sit back and make it dull. You’ll have two teams who fully believe what they have on the pitch is enough to win the game.

“Two teams who will take each other on, go head-to-head and have match-winners all over the pitch.

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley
Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley

“If you’ve never been to a League of Ireland game, if you come on Sunday, you’ll see the best two teams, fantastic footballers on the pitch, and a good brand of football from both teams.

“I think it’s a really good advertisement for the league and hopefully both teams can bring their best and the neutral who has not been to a game will come back next year — hopefully to Tallaght.”

Of course, it’s hard to imagine that Bradley wouldn’t be perfectly happy if the game ended up as cagey affair low on entertainment value – just so long as Rovers edged it to end that interminable cup drought. And the boss thinks his players should feel the weight of history not as a burden but as a source of inspiration.

“You have to embrace that,” he declares. “There is no point trying to hide from that or pretend it’s not there. It is there. We have a chance to be part of the great history of this club now and we have to embrace that and understand what it means to the club and the fans.

“There is no point blocking it out and not talking about it. It’s there. It’s black and white. Embrace it. We have a chance to try and change that on Sunday so let’s go and do it.”

A different kind of history beckons for Dundalk, of course, with Vinny Perth’s team now one game from replicating Derry City’s unique treble back in 1989.

“I hope we win the treble for this team but not just this team,” says the Lilywhites boss. “I think if we won it, it would cement us as one of the all-time great teams.

Dundalk manager Vinny Perth
Dundalk manager Vinny Perth

“If we win the treble there will be people who have played a part in that who are forgotten ones as well: (Richie) Towell, (Daryl) Horgan, Darren Meenan played a huge part in our success, Kurtis Byrne, Peter Cherrie. And obviously Stephen (Kenny). I see it like that.”

Of course, bringing things bang up to date, you can add Chris Shields to that list, the man described as ‘Mr Dundalk’ by his manager this week, forced into a watching brief through suspension as his team bids to join the ranks of the immortals.

“You see the way people talk about that Derry team,” Perth observes.

They don’t talk about every performance, every good and bad day - they talk about the great Derry team. That for me is a great opportunity for us. It’s not a season-defining game for us but there is the potential to cement ourselves as one of the all time great teams.

That Perth can describe the game as not season-defining for Dundalk – “by eight o’clock if we have lost I will be disappointed but I won’t be disappointed with the season that we have had because we will still have had one of the greatest seasons of any Dundalk team” he elaborates – is an observation which, beyond such issues as how the holders cope without Shields or whether or not Rovers go with three at the back, points to possibly the single biggest difference between the two teams going into tomorrow’s hope and history game.

Put crudely, all-conquering Dundalk are on first-name terms with success whereas, even if you leave aside the weighty historical dimension, Rovers still face the challenge of landing prestigious silverware to give truly meaningful expression to their undoubted progress as a force to be reckoned with this season.

And, again, Stephen Bradley is not inclined to try to dodge that reality.

“I think as a group they are brave the way they try and play football,” he says of his team.

It takes courage and bravery to do that but you don’t get that recognition unless you are successful.

“Dundalk have been the best team in the country for quite a number of years and have backed it up by winning trophies.

“If you want to be regarded as a top team, you’ve got to win things and we’ve got a chance to do that on Sunday.”

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