Late surge gives Sporting a year to remember
Sligo Rovers 1 Sporting Fingal 2:FIFTEEN YEARS after Sligo Rovers crowned a promotion winning season by winning the FAI Cup, Sporting Fingal beat them in a compelling final at Tallaght yesterday to repeat the trick. It was a fairytale ending to the Dublin club’s second year in existence, with Liam Buckley’s men coming from behind to wrap up a dramatic victory in the second minute of injury-time courtesy of a headed goal by Gary O’Neill.
For Rovers, it was heartbreaking way to lose a game they had dominated for lengthy spells but they left with few complaints. The contest had started so slowly that quite a few of the 8,105-strong crowd must have been wondering whether they had been wise to brave the conditions, but as things started to settle the sides managed to produce a game of surprising quality despite the wind and, at times, driving rain.
The Dubliners came within a whisker of taking the lead just over a half an hour in when Joe Kendrick was penalised for a foul on Conan Byrne and the midfielder picked himself up to send a fine curling free-kick crashing off the outside of the right-hand post.
Through the closing stages of the first half and much of the second half, though, it was Sligo who looked the better side, keeping the ball well in difficult conditions and posing a fairly consistent threat from the wings with Romauld Boco’s darting runs forward and Raffaele Cretaro’s influence up front, both major factors.
The pair each had a prominent hand in their side’s goal a little short of an hour in. The full back played a neat exchange of passes with Matthew Blinkhorn out on the right and squared the ball to the side’s top scorer. Raffaele Cretaro’s shot was blocked by Shaun Maher and when it bounced back to him he slipped it to Eoin Doyle on his left who did well to lift his chipped shot over Maher and Darren Quigley and just inside the left-hand post.
Holding the lead was to prove beyond Sligo, though, not least because Cretaro injured himself while going very close to doubling it. The striker departed with a neck injury 20 minutes from time after failing to connect with a fine cross from Boco. The bulk of the Rovers threat evaporated thereafter with the result that Fingal were granted a great deal more freedom to pursue the goal they needed in order to avoid defeat.
Even before then, though, they had had chances over the course of the game and Eamon Zayed probably should have got himself on the scoresheet at some stage.
In the end it was to be very late on before they managed to capitalise on anything that came the way of their frontmen and when they did it was Boco who actually surrendered possession for both of the breaks that led to goals.
An attempted back heel well inside the opposition half caused the initial problem for the equaliser with the ball cleared quickly down field for Zayed to chase. Moments earlier the striker had missed badly from close range, but this time he got a little lucky after attempting to push the ball around Ciarán Kelly. The goalkeeper tried to follow the ball to his left but as he turned, his opponent clattered into him and over.
The referee had no hesitation pointing to the spot and Kelly, to be fair, looked a little relieved that he wasn’t getting sent off but it was difficult to see any intent at all in the trip.
The Dubliners took full advantage of the situation, though, with right-back Colm James stepping up to coolly power the spot-kick beyond Kelly and into the top right corner of the goal.
Having been within five minutes of lifting the cup for the third time, Sligo’s dream suddenly looked to be shattering as Fingal stepped up another gear and went after a winner.
It came in injury-time with Boco’s attempted clearance under pressure handing possession to Shane McFaul in central midfield. He fed the ball quickly out to the right wing from where Robert Bayly sent in a wonderful cross that O’Neill nodded home after getting in front of Alan Keane on the edge of the six-yard box.
The game restarted, but only just. Sligo’s fans made for the exits while Fingal’s celebrated their side’s first trophy and the prospect of Europa Cup football in season number three.
SLIGO ROVERS: Kelly; Boco, Peers, Keane, Kendrick; Cash (Morrison, 55 mins), Ventre, Ryan, Doyle; Cretaro (Meenan, 70 mins), Blinkhorn.
SPORTING FINGAL: Quigley; James, Maher, Paisley, Fitzgerald; McFaul; Bayly, Williams; Byrne, O’Neill, Zayed.
Referee: A Kelly (Cork).