Cork City seal their spot on top of the heap - on the double
John Caulfield’s side fight back from going behind to win on penalties
Cork City’s Alan Bennett lifts the FAI Cup triphy after the penalty shoot-out victory over Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Cork City 1 Dundalk 1 (aet, 0-0 after 90 mins; Cork won 5-3 on penalties)
It has seemed lately that almost every cup final has gone the distance and then a little but perhaps Cork just wanted to prove to us all that their finishing really isn’t so poor after all.
There had again been slim pickings for the southerners over the preceding 120 minutes but after Achille Campion’s extra-time equaliser took this game to penalties they showed what they were made of. Karl Sheppard, Greg Bolger, Conor McCormack, Steven Beattie and Kieran Sadlier all scored from the spot. Not bad, in the end, for a side supposedly living in the shadow of a departed striker.
After Mark McNulty had saved Dundalk’s fourth, from Michael Duffy, Sadlier’s strike completed what had briefly seemed a slightly unlikely comeback by City and, of course, a double.
Niclas Vemmelund had looked as though he might have won it for Dundalk with his headed goal after five minutes of the first period of extra-time. Duffy teed him up with a perfectly weighted curling free but the Danish defender did the rest in some style, getting up high and ahead of his man to turn the ball past McNulty and into the top right corner.
John Caulfield shook his side up, though, with a double substitution and Campion made the most obvious impact; stealing in behind a defence whose collective mind seemed suddenly to have wandered for a minute. The Frenchman collected Sheppard’s cleverly chipped ball into space before powering it past Gary Rogers.
After what had been a very good afternoon for Vemmelund, the Dane had to shoulder some of the blame for letting the striker go but there were a few of them in it with Seán Hoare slow to react and Dane Massey playing him onside.
It was a remarkable end to what had been a slightly less eventful game. From early on, City’s recent struggles up front did seem to be handicapping them again with Caulfield’s side making the stronger start and creating chances but then repeatedly coming up short when it came to applying a finish.
Stephen Dooley and Sheppard (twice) allowed Rogers the opportunity to make saves when, it seemed, there was the chance to render him helpless and generally the league champions seemed to lack punch in the final third, certainly from play.
Dundalk, though, weren’t much better when they got into things. Pat McEleney might have done more to round off a neat bit of approach work out on the right that had involved Jamie McGrath and Robbie Benson but McNulty parried and Alan Bennett coolly did the rest.
Duffy, meanwhile, should at least have drawn something spectacular from the City goalkeeper after Stephen O’Donnell had picked him out in space inside the area but the winger delayed momentarily then hit a weak shot that was far too easy really dealt with.
So it went on. There were neat engaging passages of play in midfield with City probably producing the best of the first half and Dundalk the second, but on the occasions that one defence or another was sufficiently alert to an impending danger, the goalkeepers had little trouble making the required saves.
Both came under more pressure from set pieces, particularly McNulty as the game went on, but they were well protected by referee Paul McLaughlin who might well have gone too far on 73 minutes when Brian Gartland tried to nick in ahead of his opponent to head towards goal, only to get penalised for contact that seemed slight at best. Had the whistle not gone, Dundalk might have had their breakthrough on that occasion.
As it was, it was difficulty to see where any goal was going to come from in an entertaining but hardly gripping encounter which seemed to lack a little of the intensity that Caulfield had suggested last week was sort of guaranteed in games between these two sides.
There was an occasional bit of niggle, of course, and McNulty was mixed up in much of it, but we were three quarters of the way through the 90 before the referee actually felt the need to book someone with O’Donnell the one who eventually pushed him too far with a challenge on Gearóid Morrissey.
In the centre, though, the two sides were generally well matched, with occasional bursts of energetic enterprise threatening to produce a game-changing moment. City, though, kept Dundalk’s wide men very quiet thanks to some strong and committed defending while the job Vemmelund, in particular, did looking after Sheppard meant the opportunities for the likes of Jimmy Keohane, later Sadlier, and Garry Buckley to get forward in support of their lone striker were few and frustratingly far between.
Still, they almost stole it with what was close to being the last touch of normal time when Dooley, relatively quiet since the opening stages, held the ball really well before picking out Sadlier at the far post. His header back across the face of goal flew just behind Bennett, who tried in vain to adjust his stride. But from just behind him Buckley arrived to turn the ball goalwards, forcing Rogers into what pretty much the save of the afternoon.
McNulty might claim to have eclipsed it with Duffy’s spot kick, although the Dundalk player will surely feel he could have done better. Stephen Kenny will know and he and all his players will have to if they are to regain top spot from a team who have put their claim to it for this season safely beyond question.
CORK CITY: McNulty; Beattie, Bennett, Delaney, Griffin; McCormack, Morrissey (Bolger, 99 mins); Keohane (Sadlier, 58 mins), Buckley Campion, 99 mins) Dooley; Sheppard.
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland (Hoare, 90 mins), Vemmelund, Massey; O’Donnell; McGrath (Connolly, 71 mins), McEleney (Mountney, 108), Benson, Duffy; McMillan.
Referee: P McLaughlin (Donegal).