Kelly returns to foil 10-man Shelbourne

 

FAI CUP FINAL: Shelbourne 1 Sligo Rovers 1:HAVING LOST then won FAI Cup finals in dramatic fashion over the past couple of years, Sligo Rovers triumphed in the most remarkable circumstances yet at the Aviva stadium yesterday to lift the trophy for the fourth time.

There was more than a hint of deja vu about the victory as Ciarán Kelly, who saved four spot kicks against Shamrock Rovers 12 months ago, made two saves in a penalty shoot-out to give his side the upper hand. What was different this time around was that Paul Cook had only brought the 31-year-old on at the end of extra time to face the penalties.

It looked an inspired move as another substitute, Raffaele Cretaro, stepped back in from the margins himself to power the winner past a helpless Dean Delaney. Initially beaten by Karl Bermingham, Kelly then guessed right to stop unconvincing low attempts by Kevin Dawson and Colly James. The Rovers finishing was flawless, meanwhile, with Eoin Doyle, Richie Ryan and Alan Keane finishing confidently to set up the success.

It was a cruel way for Shelbourne’s cup dream to end, for they had led at one stage through a fine Philly Hughes volley and battled valiantly after being wrongly reduced to 10 men shortly before half-time.

For much of the latter part of the contest Sligo were comfortably on top but the Dubliners never gave up and the game was far more entertaining, even into the closing stages of extra time, than seemed reasonable to expect when Rovers were handed their numerical advantage and then levelled through Iarfhlaith Davoren.

Shelbourne settled better into the game, with David Cassidy at the heart of most of their play and just about everyone in their midfield and attack contributing to a spell of dominance that might easily have yielded a goal or two.

The range of movement from the newly promoted side was particularly impressive with Brendan McGill and Barry Clancy causing problems out wide for their respective full backs while Kevin Dawson and John Sullivan struck a solid balance between providing defensive cover and working to release Cassidy, who served as a link man with lone striker Hughes.

Clancy came closest to opening the scoring before Hughes got his side off the mark.

The 26-year-old timed his run into the area well and met a McGill cross with a powerful header but was unfortunate to see it come crashing back off the woodwork.

His luck was to get a good deal worse. With his side having recently taken the lead through Hughes, Clancy tripped John Russell as the Sligo midfielder broke forward down the right-hand flank. There wasn’t an awful lot to it and there was no particular need to book the Shelbourne player but referee Richie Winter decided to lay down a marker and was within his rights to do so.

The Wicklow-based match official may well have ended up wishing he had kept his card in his pocket at that stage, for barely a minute later Clancy went down after receiving a shove inside the Sligo area from Russell and Winter reckoned he should be booked again.

It’s not the first time this season the referee has been involved in a soft sending off related to a double booking, but the second yellow here was a terrible call, with Clancy having a half decent shout for a penalty that, while it might have been soft, would have been infinitely more justified than the midfielder’s dismissal.

Obviously upset, Clancy had to be consoled by team officials as he left the pitch but Sligo, having fumbled through the game up until that point without any clear sense of purpose, saw their opportunity.

In the few minutes that remained of the half they twice went close to grabbing an equaliser with Aaron Greene narrowly failing to make contact with a whipped in Russell cross from the right. Greene then provided one himself, with Russell clipping the top of the crossbar.

They must have been happy in the Shelbourne dugout to hear the half-time whistle, but if they hoped to steady things and get the contest to a point where Rovers had to start committing a little recklessly to the search for an equaliser they were to be disappointed.

The Dubliners’ lead survived just three minutes into the second period with Greene picking up possession after something of a scramble in the area and feeding Danny Ventre who in turn pushed the ball invitingly into the path of the advancing Davoren, whose first-time low drive seemed to somehow deceive Dean Delaney and fly in at the near post.

A man down in midfield, Shelbourne had little option but to pull Cassidy back a little deeper, with the result that Hughes looked more remote and the team struggled to pose as much of a threat on the break.

They spent the bulk of their time defending, often in or around their own area, and they would have fallen behind quickly enough but for a decent piece of goalkeeping from Delaney who stood up well to save when Matthew Blinkhorn looked set to score with his first touch since coming on.

Andy Boyle, having made a fine challenge on the slightly subdued Doyle at a keyl moment in the first half, got in a good block to deprive Blinkhorn again in the second.

The Rovers pressure was almost relentless during what was left of normal time and even if they did not dominate the extra half an hour, they had the better of it without really forcing Delaney into serious action again.

In the end, though, Delaney was left with little chance of keeping his side in it when it came to sudden death thanks to the quality of the Rovers penalties. Kelly, on the other hand, grabbed his opportunity to write his name and that of Sligo Rovers into the history books again.

SHELBOURNE:Delaney; Ryan, Boyle, Paisley, Byrne; B McGill (Birmingham, 120 mins), Dawson, Sullivan (Byrne, 59 mins), Clancy; Cassidy (James, 117 mins); Hughes.

SLIGO ROVERS:Clarke (Kelly, 120 mins); Keane, McGuinness, Peers, Davoren; Ventre, Ryan; Dillon (Blinkhorn, 60 mins), Russell (Cretaro, 78 mins), Greene; Doyle.

Referee: R Winters (Wicklow).