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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Shamrock Rovers beat Dundalk on penalties to end 32-year wait for FAI Cup glory

Gary O’Neill slotted home the winning spot kick to send Hoops fans into ecstasy.

Shamrock Rovers celebrate with the trophy after the game.
Shamrock Rovers celebrate with the trophy after the game.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

SHAMROCK ROVERS HAVE won the FAI Cup for the first time since 1987, after beating league champions Dundalk 4-2 on penalties at the Aviva Stadium.

Gary O’Neill slotted home the winning spot kick to send Hoops fans into ecstasy, as a heartbroken Dundalk fell just short of clinching a domestic treble. 

A tight and tense match had finished 1-1 after extra-time.

There was drama late on, as an 89th-minute penalty was converted by Aaron McEneff, after Aaron Greene had been taken down by Gary Rogers.

However, when it appeared as if Rovers had won it, Dundalk responded with virtually the last kick of normal time.

A ball into the box was only half cleared, allowing Michael Duffy to fire home an emphatic finish on the half volley and send the game into extra time.

Chances were at a premium in the ensuing 30 minutes, with both teams looking exhausted and penalties ultimately required to separate them.

The Hoops had begun the game strongly and probably deserved the victory on the balance of play.

Jack Byrne, who made his Ireland debut on the same pitch back in September against Bulgaria, saw plenty of the ball early on.

The 23-year-old midfielder’s defence-splitting passes persistently caused the Lilywhites problems.

After just four minutes, Aaron Greene latched on to a through pass from the former Man City youngster, and fired an effort narrowly wide.

Moments later, Greene won the ball deep in Lilywhites territory. He crossed for the onrushing Ronan Finn, who tried but failed to flick it into the net on the turn.

Without the suspended midfielder Chris Shields, Dundalk had looked strangely subdued in the opening stages, as their opponents dictated play.

Vinny Perth’s men started to come into it more as the half developed, however. Brian Gartland, who was given the nod to start at the back in favour of Andy Boyle, met Sean Murray’s corner, with Rovers goalkeeper Alan Mannus needing to be alert to parry the defender’s header away.

The Lilywhites went close from a set piece again on the brink of half-time. Murray’s free kick found Daniel Cleary at the back post, but the centre-back could not hit the target with his header.

The second half was similarly closely fought, with defences generally on top and both sides lacking cutting edge in the final third.

Dundalk eventually fashioned a decent opening with 20 minutes remaining. Sean Gannon’s low cross found Jamie McGrath on the edge of the area, and the midfielder’s first-time effort went narrowly wide of the post.

Rovers then went close down the other end. Ronan Finn crossed for Graham Burke, who evaded the challenge of Cleary, before firing just over from inside the penalty area.

With time running out, the game appeared destined for extra-time, and so it proved, albeit not in the manner people were expecting.

Firstly, on 89 minutes, Burke slipped through the onrushing Greene, who got to the ball ahead of Gary Rogers and went down under the goalkeeper’s challenge.

Aaron McEneff stepped up and converted the penalty, seemingly sealing a dramatic late victory for his side.

But there was to be another twist. Dundalk, in desperate search for an equaliser, three caution to the wind, replacing defensive midfielder Sean Hoare with striker Georgie Kelly, while Rovers, for their part, introduced Greg Bolger in place of Burke in an attempt to protect their lead.

Nevertheless, in a mad final few seconds, a hopeful ball into the box by Pat Hoban deflected kindly for Duffy, and the winger unleashed an unstoppable shot that left Alan Mannus with no chance and ensured another 30 minutes of game time,

Both sides were running out of gas at this stage, and the subsequent half an hour was played at a much more lethargic pace that preceding 90.

Lee Grace had a header just over from Jack Byrne’s corner, while Georgie Kelly almost won it in the dying seconds with a shot on the turn that was tipped around the post by Mannus.

Yet both sides ultimately had to settle for penalties, after drawing for the second time this season.

Duffy, having been the hero minutes previously, saw his spot kick hit the upright, while Cleary then had his penalty saved by Mannus.

Jamie McGrath and substitute Jordan Flores made no mistake with their efforts, though it was to prove in vain.

The Hoops demonstrated a perfect record from the spot. Jack Byrne, Joey O’Brien and Greg Bolger all scored to put them in command.

It was left to Gary O’Neill, signed from UCD earlier this season, to step up for the fourth penalty, showing calmness personified to seal a historic victory.

Dundalk: 1. Gary Rogers 2. Sean Gannon 3. Brian Gartland (C) 21. Daniel Cleary 4. Sean Hoare (Georgie Kelly 90) 14. Dane Massey 7. Michael Duffy 16. Sean Murray (Daniel Kelly 61) 18. Robbie Benson (Mountney 112) 10. Jamie McGrath 9. Pat Hoban (Flores 100).

Subs: 20. Aaron McCarey 6. Jordan Flores 8. John Mountney 12. Georgie Kelly 27. Daniel Kelly 33. Dean Jarvis 44. Andy Boyle.

Shamrock Rovers: 1. Alan Mannus 4. Roberto Lopes 5. Lee Grace 28. Joey O’Brien 11. Sean Kavanagh (Farrugia 68) 16. Gary O’Neill 8. Ronan Finn (C) 29. Jack Byrne 10. Aaron McEneff 21. Graham Burke (Bolger 90) 22. Aaron Greene (Lafferty 112).

Subs: 30 Kian Clarke 6. Greg Bolger 7. Dylan Watts 17. Daniel Lafferty 23. Neil Farrugia 26. Thomas Oluwa 27. Brandon Kavanagh.

Referee: Derek Tomney

Attendance: 33,111

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy  / Reports from the Aviva Stadium.

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