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Brilliant McMillan inspires Dundalk to FAI Cup final in Tallaght thriller

Dundalk booked their place in the FAI Cup final for the third year in a row.

David McMillan celebrates scoring a goal with the Dundalk fans Striker David McMillan celebrates with the travelling Dundalk supporters. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Shamrock Rovers 2

Dundalk 4

Aaron Gallagher reports from Tallaght Stadium

DUNDALK BOOKED THEIR place in the FAI Cup final for the third successive year with a dramatic 4-2 extra time win on Tuesday night, which not only opens up the possibility of a cup double for Stephen Kenny’s side, but also extends Shamrock Rovers’ bitter 30 year wait for the elusive title by another year at least.

In a game that was high on quality goals on the pitch, as well as heated drama off it which featured a mass brawl involving both sets of players and technical staff, it proved another enthralling instalment in what has been a tense rivalry between the two sets of clubs this season.

Winners from David McMillan and captain Stephen O’Donnell in the second half of extra time proved decisive after the sides had been drawn level twice during the regulation 90 minutes.

Ronan Finn had given his side the lead after just 11 minutes with a sweet strike before McMillan equalised minutes later, with Robbie Benson giving Dundalk the lead for the first time, before substitute Michael O’Connor brought the sides level a second time with five minutes remaining.

2017 saw Rovers continue their quest to claim the showpiece of domestic Irish football for the first time since 1987, as a barren period without it has remained intact for the club which holds the record number of titles of 24 despite that three decade absence.

There has been no love lost between Rovers and Dundalk this season, with this the sixth meeting of the pair in 2017 — two wins apiece and a draw on record since the beginning of the season.

Dundalk, however, had already claimed the initial bragging rights having come to Tallaght last month and handed Rovers a 3-0 defeat in the EA Sports Cup final to whet their appetite for silverware.

Darren Dillon clashes with Sean Gannon It was a tense affair in Dublin between two sides that have now battled six times this season. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

After seeing Cork all but wrap up the league title, a second cup title was very much on the agenda for Stephen Kenny, particularly having lost last season’s decider at the hands of a Sean Maguire winner in the final minute last November at the Aviva Stadium.

Last Sunday’s drawn semi-final saw heated aggression and intense vigour between the sides arise yet again, as a second-half Brandon Miele equaliser brought the game to a replay before Hoops defender David McAllister was sent off for a horrific challenge on Chris Shields.

It didn’t take long for the intensity of the first semi-final to carry on into this highly-anticipated sequel, as former Lilywhite Ronan Finn brought Rovers into the lead no less than 11 minutes into the encounter.

A free-kick was awarded following a collision of McMillan and Rovers defender Simon Madden along the halfway line.

A quick flash into the box from the set-piece saw the ball cleared at the first hurdle before falling to Finn, who caught the ball sweetly with a first-time volley which flew emphatically into Gary Rodgers’ bottom corner to make it 1-0.

The profound elation which poured from the East Stand was short-lived, however, as McMillan popped up at the back post to draw the scores level less than three minutes after the hosts had taken the lead.

David McMillan celebrates scoring a goal with Stephen O'Donnell and Dylan Connolly McMillan celebrates drawing the sides level. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

It was a fast-paced period of steady build-up play from Dundalk which began the move. Sean Gannon found himself in space along the right wing before aiming a dangerous cross deep into the penalty area and towards the back post.

Rovers goalkeeper Tomer Chencinski reached the ball, but could only drop it again right into the path of forward McMillan. Proving industrious as accurate in front of goal he provided a low diving header — his 125th goal in League of Ireland football — to make it 1-1 after just 13 minutes.

Just nine minutes after the interval Kenny’s side had turn things around completely to wrestle the lead. A scramble inside the penalty area following a knock-down from Brian Gartland via a Michael Duffy corner saw Robbie Benson prod home from close range inside the box.

It was the playmaker’s 12th goal of the season across all competitions and his second in this fixture in the space of a week, having given his side the lead last Sunday too.

It was a complete turnaround having gone behind so early, but also presented Stephen Bradley’s side with enough time to draw the scores level for a second time and perhaps force extra time.

Michael O'Connor celerates scoring his sides second goal Michael O'Connor made it 2-2 with five minutes remaining. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Despite a sustained period of Dundalk pressure Rovers persisted and would never say die, even as the clock crossed 80 minutes.

One minute later striker Michael O’Connor was introduced in place of Roberto Lopes and four minutes after that he was in dreamland.

Sustained pressure from the Hoops saw Dundalk pressed back. Despite the combined muscle of centre-back pairing Brian Gartland and Sean Hoare, O’Connor rose tremendously to meet Trevor Clarke’s cross and beat Rodgers with a thumping header.

It was brave from the substitute, but equally accurate and decisive. With the cross coming towards the 19-year-old he shifted his body and directed the ball brilliantly into the far corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance of keeping it at bay.

Stephen O'Donnell celebrates after the game Captain Stephen O'Donnell grabbed a fourth for Dundalk in the second half of extra time to seal the win. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

With the score now poised at 2-2 the sides headed for extra time. Both sides had presentable chances come close to bringing a winner, Madden and McMillan both with efforts from range which came within inches of providing an unforgettable decider.

The first half of extra time ended with an intense brawl involving both sets of players and some technical staff along the touchline, with Rovers’ fitness coach Darren Dillon sent to the stands.

The drama was unrelenting, but after more than 200 minutes of football between the sides a winner finally arose. McMillan grabbed his second of the night with a left-footed half-volley inside the box, before captain O’Donnell capped off the night with another brilliant looping header.

He leapt high and mighty to nudge a stunning effort past Chencinski making sure of the win and Dundalk’s place in November’s showpiece with Cork City at Lansdowne Road.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Tomer Chencinski; Simon Madden, David Webster, Lee Grace, Luke Byrne (Cameron King 72), Roberto Lopes (Michael O’Connor 81), Ryan Connolly (James Doona 60), Trevor Clarke, Ronan Finn, Brandon Miele, Gary Shaw

DUNDALK: Gary Rodgers, Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Brian Gartland, Niclas Vemmelund (Shane Grimes 45), Stephen O’Donnell, Robbie Benson, Michael Duffy (Chris Shields 107), Dylan Connolly (Thomas Stewart 69) , Jamie McGrath, David McMillan

Referee: Paul McLoughlin

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Aaron Gallagher

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