Stephen Kenny hasn’t had too many disappointments in his time as Dundalk manager but perhaps top of the list is last year’s FAI Cup final defeat to Cork City.
Sean Maguire’s winner in stoppage time at the end of extra-time denied the Louth men a famous double-double in the cruellest of circumstances in the 121st minute.
As hard as that defeat was to take for the Lilywhites, Kenny insists it would make victory in the ‘trilogy’ on Sunday all the more satisfying.
“The defeats hit hard but I think that’s why the victories are special,” he said.
“For us to have the last four years that we’ve had, it has been a really prolific run, so for us to win the FAI Cup on top of that, in our third final would be an amazing feeling.”
Dundalk beat Cork City in the 2015 decider with a late Richie Towell goal in extra-time before having the tables turned on them last year.
Kenny insists his side’s preparations are better this time around without the distraction of the Europa League and stressed the importance of winning the cup having been denied a fourth league title in-a-row by John Caulfield’s side.
“The first year we won it in 2015 was an incredible performance. We were knocking on the door constantly and eventually Richie scored.
“Last year we parachuted off the plane from St Petersburg into the Aviva nearly, with coming back on the Friday and playing on the Sunday. It was a real physical and mental test. The players did brilliant and we had the upper hand in extra-time but we lost it in the last minute which was very cruel.
“We’d had an amazing season winning the league and getting to the Europa League. This season we haven’t won the league so I suppose the cup becomes even greater,” he said.
Cork City took seven points from a possible nine from Dundalk in the league this season, with seven points the difference between the sides in the end.
However, Kenny rejected the idea that the Rebels have the upper hand on his side.
“We had the upper hand winning the league in 2014 with a big epic finale, doing the double in 2015 and in 2016 winning the big game at Oriel to win the league with Daryl Horgan’s two brilliant goals.
“This year it has been different. Cork have taken seven from nine in the three games and we haven’t beaten Cork this season so it’s a big challenge now in the final for us to go and do that.
“The two games in Oriel last year we dominated, the game where we won the title and the game we lost 1-0 where the penalty was given. I thought we were excellent in that game for long periods and in the cup final as well so it’s not that they have our number. For the previous seven or eight games before that, we probably had the upper hand.
“This year their front three earlier in the year of Sheppard, Maguire, and Dooley were very good. Our players now are looking like being in that form.
“David McMillan is in brilliant form, Robbie Benson is really coming to the fore, Patrick McEleney as well and the players who came in this season are all really improving. Stephen O’Donnell is also back fit so we’ve got a lot to our armoury,” he said.
Kenny also feels playing in the Aviva will suit his side.
“Cork will be well drilled. In the last game in Turner’s Cross there probably hasn’t been a time in any game where we’ve been given so little time. They literally were on the full press.
“They don’t concede many chances. They really defend deep by and large but then they hit you into the channels. They’ll look to contain us in that regard but I think the Aviva will suit us a bit with the wide open spaces of it.
“We’ll have to earn the right to win it but we believe in ourselves. These players have time and time again produced on the big occasion and that is very encouraging,” he said.
Steven Kinsella has been ruled out for Dundalk with a back problem but Kenny is hopeful Dylan Connolly (ankle), Chris Shields (knee), and John Mountney (osteo pubis) will make it having sat out recent matches.
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