McEleney the FAI Cup hero as Dundalk bag second double in four years before 30,412 spectators

Goals from Sean Hoare and Patrick McEleney helped Dundalk secure the FAI Cup on Sunday.

Brian Gartland lifts the FAI Cup after full-time at the Aviva Stadium.
Brian Gartland lifts the FAI Cup after full-time at the Aviva Stadium.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cork City 1

Dundalk 2

DUNDALK SECURED a historic double on Sunday afternoon at the Aviva Stadium, with Stephen Kenny’s men coming out on top in yet another exciting and absorbing instalment of this most intense and heated rivalry thanks to a pinpoint Patrick McEleney header late on.

The two sides have shared the last five SSE Airtricity League titles between them, with Sunday’s final the fourth consecutive time they have met at Landsdowne Road on the first Sunday in November.

Worry about a potential fatigue from the Irish footballing public with the yearly meeting was quickly subsided as more than 30,000 spectators — Dundalk, Cork City and neutral supporters alike — all flocked together on a cool afternoon to create a most electric of atmospheres.

It was the second highest attendance at an FAI Cup final since the fixture moved to the new national stadium in 2010, and following a nip-and-tuck opening half an hour the two teams provided early green shoots of a brilliant and bombastic encounter, with two goals in lightening quick succession.

Over the course of their last three final meetings, Dundalk and Cork City produced zero goals in regulation time — Richie Towell scoring the winner in extra-time in 2015, Sean Maguire doing likewise a year later and John Caulfield’s men succeeding on spot kicks 12 months ago.

Sean Hoare broke that normal time goal drought in quite sensational fashion to give the Lilywhites a 19th-minute lead on Sunday. The centre back leapt like a salmon possessed to meet Michael Duffy’s inviting corner, with Hoare rocketing a thundering header right into Mark McNulty’s top corner.

Alan Bennett with Robbie Benson Robbie Benson competes for possession alongside Alan Bennett. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The emphatic nature of the finish was reflected in the raucous atmosphere which boomed out from the stands from jubilant Dundalk supporters, who had made the journey down to the capital hoping to see their side secure a league and cup double for the second time in four seasons.

Flares were lit before kick-off and more were dispersed as Stephen Kenny’s men rocked into a 1-0 lead with less than 20 minutes on the clock. Hoare, who signed from St Pat’s two years ago in search of titles and silverware, stormed down the sideline in exasperated joy with his side now in the ascendency.

The adrenaline running through his veins was painted across his face, however that same rush of blood proved deadly as the defender went from hero to villian, allowing Cork the chance to equalise with a silly push on Karl Sheppard inside the box 60 seconds after scoring.

Gary Rodgers celebrates Patrick McEleney scoring a goal Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers celebrates Patrick McEleney's winner in the second half. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Kieran Sadlier broke Dundalk hearts with the winning penalty kick when the sides met in a penalty shoot-out this time last year, and the Englishman had no trouble rifling another killer spot-kick past goalkeeper Gary Rogers this time around.

The winger took aim for the bottom corner and managed to squeeze a precise effort narrowly underneath the dive of the Meath man standing between the posts; Rogers diving correctly to his left, but jumping over Sadlier’s strike which stung the back of the net.

Two goals in as many minutes marked a welcome change from the normally tight, tit-for-tat and low-scoring affairs which has been this fixture’s hallmark in FAI Cup deciders over the last number of years.

In fact, Dundalk almost made it three goals in as many minutes just a few moments later — Brian Gartland having his own emphatic header dramatically cleared off the line at the death thanks to some last-ditch heroics and smart positioning from Cork’s Shane Griffin.

Ultimately, however, that electric 10 minute period subdued following Gartland’s nearly-header. That familiar pattern of neither side giving an inch, sussing one another out and keeping risky moves to a minimum prevailed.

Kieran Sadlier celebrates scoring with his teammates Cork City players celebrate Kieran Sadlier's penalty which drew the sides level at 1-1. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Even with that in mind, the bitterness and animosity which has arisen between the two teams in recent years did not depart this fixture by any means — harsh challenges from Chris Shields and Garry Buckley the hallmark of a dogged midfield battle.

Chances from Dane Massey and a powerful drive from Robbie Benson almost regained the lead for Dundalk after the break, but it was a Patrick McEleney header from close range which provided an almighty sucker-punch after 73 minutes.

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Shane Griffin was dispossessed just inside City’s half, with Kenny’s men punishing his lapse in concentration with deadly precision and intent. Sean Gannon teed up an inviting, curling cross right into the mixer, with McEleney steering the ball low into the opposite bottom corner.

Mark McNulty got the slightest of touches as the ball trickled into the back of the net, but could do nothing more than that as the Derry forward reeled away in celebration as Dundalk took a 2-1 lead into the dying stages.

Sean Hoare celebrates scoring Sean Hoare scored Dundalk's opening goal with a thundering header after 19 minutes. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Sheppard almost forced extra-time for the fourth year running, shooting a wayward effort narrowly wide of Rogers’ top corner as the Lilywhites defence of Brian Gartland and Hoare back-peddled desperately.

But Dundalk hung on, seeing out the game effectively as John Caulfield’s side pushed and pushed for a second leveller. It never came, with the Louth side bagging their second league and cup double in the last four years.

DUNDALK: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon (Daniel Cleary 86), Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, John Mountney (Jamie McGrath 58), Robbie Benson (Dean Jarvis 90); Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy, Patrick Hoban.

CORK CITY: Mark McNulty; Conor McCarthy, Alan Bennett, Sean McLoughlin, Shane Griffin; Conor McCormack (Cian Murphy 85), Gearoid Morrissey (Barry McNamee 68), Jimmy Keohane (Graham Cummins 75), Garry Buckley; Kieran Sadlier, Karl Sheppard.

Referee: Neil Doyle

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Aaron Gallagher  / Reporting from the Aviva Stadium

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