Kelly spot on as Sligo take cup
FAI CUP FINAL:HAVING LOST last year’s final a little cruelly, it seems Sligo Rovers may just have been waiting for a bigger stage on which to lift their first FAI Cup since 1994.
And with a crowd officially put at 36,101 the Aviva stadium certainly seemed to be to their liking yesterday as they outplayed the league champions for long stretches of an entertaining match that went all the way to penalties before the heroics of Ciarán Kelly completely stole the show.
The 30-year-old has been around the block a bit during the course of a League of Ireland career that started at the Showgrounds but included spells in Derry, Athlone and Galway, prior to his having landed back in the north-west last year.
Yesterday’s personal triumph, though, completed a rather more particular journey that started on a Sunday afternoon last December in, of all places, Tallaght.
Theoretically, Kelly is Paul Cook’s second-choice goalkeeper behind Richard Brush but injuries to his club-mate have provided him with plenty of opportunities including one to play in the cup final last year when a harsh penalty awarded against him late on handed Sporting Fingal a ticket back from the brink of defeat that they made full use of.
If he was really to blame for anything that day, then he more than made amends yesterday, saving all four of the spot kicks directed at him during the shoot-out; a feat that, when paired with Eoin Doyle and Gary McCabe’s successful efforts, paved the way for Sligo’s long awaited victory.
Kelly later described the feat as lucky but goalkeepers have to engineer a fair bit of it in these situations and asked to explain why, after saving once to either side, he decided to stand upright as Chris Turner approached for penalty number three he revealed that: “Last year, when he was with Dundalk, he hit one down the middle and, I knew his run up, he did the same run up again and so I said I’d stay.”
His record in shoot-outs is certainly impressive with the goalkeeper revealing that he has only been on the losing side in such situations “once or twice”. Still, he admitted, saving just one of 20 or so in training on Saturday may not have inspired all that much confidence beforehand amongst his team-mates on this occasion.
Both managers were magnanimous towards their opponents afterwards with Michael O’Neill readily accepting that Sligo had played very well while Paul Cook (who avoided watching the shoot-out by joining his physio John Coyle out in the car park while the latter “had a ciggy”) acknowledged that, with his side apparently unable to convert their superiority into something a little more tangible, the Dubliners had come within a whisker of completing their double.
Instead, he observed, “there will be two pieces of silverware (they won the League Cup a few weeks ago) resting up in Sligo tonight and we’ve taken a little bit of momentum away from Dublin clubs that everybody seemed to think were all powerful.”
Rhetorically, he then asked whether the season might have been even better had Romuald Boco, Joseph Ndo and Jim Lauchlan been available to play the whole league campaign.
With just Alan Keane and John Dillon signed for next season so far, keeping this group together so as to mount a stronger challenge for the title next season is the next challenge for Cook who could only laugh when asked if he could pull it off.
“I’ve just been in there telling them they’re all officially unemployed now,” he joked. “I thanked them for their efforts and told them I’ll start signing up a new team tomorrow.”