Cork City 1
(Cork win 5-3 on penalties)
Ben Blake reports from the Aviva Stadium
MARK MCNULTY PROVED Cork City’s penalty shootout hero as the Leesiders secured a historic first league/FAI Cup double tonight.
The experienced goalkeeper, who riled up Dundalk fans last week with his ‘Fuck the Lilywhites’ chant, guessed right to stop Michael Duffy’s spot-kick at the Aviva Stadium.
After yet another 0-0 draw in 90 minutes, the Louth club had struck through Danish defender Niclas Vemmelund early in extra-time, before Frenchman Achille Campion levelled terms.
This was the third installment of a trilogy with Irish football’s top two going into today’s fixture with one win apiece. In the 2015 and 2016 finals, extra-time winners were needed to separate the sides after they had played out scoreless draws.
With that in mind, many were predicting an edgy affair with chances at a minimum. Thankfully for the 24,210 football fans who showed up to Lansdowne Road, that wasn’t the case during an extremely open first 45 minutes.
A mistake from Vemmelund — likely to be making his final appearance for the club — on seven minutes allowed Karl Sheppard to exploit space down the right and get his cross in.
The Dubliner, who could be set to join the Lilywhites in the off-season, couldn’t find a team-mate, however, and the ball was collected by Gary Rogers.
He and McNulty were kept busy throughout the half and the Cork number one had to palm away a shot from Jamie McGrath moments later after good work from Patrick McEleney and Robbie Benson.
Rogers got a hand to a Stephen Dooley cross, before Sean Gannon headed behind another inviting Sheppard cross. The resulting corner was taken short to Dooley, who spun and drove the ball into the danger area. Sheppard got a touch to send it goalwards, where Rogers did enough to block.
A neat passage of play from Dundalk ended in a chipped pass from Benson to Duffy, who cut inside and forced McNulty to get down well and make the stop. Cork replied immediately with their own attack as Rogers pulled off a double save — first from a drilled effort by Dooley and then from Sheppard, who followed up with a first-time volley.
McEleney, perhaps the most creative talent on the field, was lively early on and found David McMillan, but the striker’s attempted lob didn’t trouble McNulty.
It was a frantic first half and both teams will have been glad of referee Paul McLaughlin’s whistle for the chance to catch their breath.
The opening minutes after the restart produced a goalmouth scramble with Dundalk coming close. Dane Massey, Duffy and Benson combined to create a half-chance for McGrath, but his header was hacked away.
Rogers then saved from Keohane before John Caulfield made the first substitution of the night by withdrawing the winger. Kieran Sadlier will have counted himself unlucky not to start after impressing since his move from Sligo Rovers over the summer — although the City boss alluded to the fact that he has been suffering from flu during this past week.
The former Ireland U21 international was given just over a half hour to make his mark on the final, while Stephen Kenny introduced speed merchant Dylan Connolly soon afterwards in the hope that the ex-Bray Wanderers man could unlock the Cork defence.
Before he was withdrawn, McGrath hung up a cross that was met by the head of Benson but, once again, McNulty was up to the task.
Dundalk dominated possession and looked the more likely to break the deadlock heading towards 90 minutes but Cork could easily have snatched a winner right at the death. Dooley clipped to the back post where Sheppard nodded it back into the mix and Bennett got a touch to direct it towards goal.
Rogers continued a fine night between the sticks to keep him out, but the Lilywhites lost Brian Gartland with a head injury in the process after he clashed with Ryan Delaney. Sean Hoare took his place at centre-half and, for the third year in a row, extra-time beckoned.
And just five minutes into the extended period, Dundalk struck. Duffy’s pinpoint free-kick was whipped over and Vemmelund powered a header into the top corner.
Sadlier screwed a shot wide at the start of the second half, and Cork pulled level with 111 minutes on the clock. Sheppard’s floated ball found substitute Campion brilliantly and the Frenchman chested down before firing in off Rogers.
That meant a penalty shootout followed, and after Sheppard, McMillan, Bolger, O’Donnell, McCormack, Benson and Beattie all dispatched their spot-kicks, McNulty kept out Duffy before Sadlier blasted home Cork’s fifth.
DUNDALK: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland (Sean Hoare 91), Niclas Vemmelund, Dane Massey; Stephen O’Donnell (c), Robbie Benson, Jamie McGrath (Dylan Connolly 71), Patrick McEleney (John Mountney 108), Michael Duffy; David McMillan.
CORK CITY: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie, Alan Bennett, Ryan Delaney, Shane Griffin; Conor McCormack, Gearoid Morrissey (Greg Bolger 98), Jimmy Keohane (Kiaran Sadlier 59), Garry Buckley (Achille Campion 98), Stephen Dooley; Karl Sheppard.