Dundalk 4 Shamrock Rovers 2 (aet; 2-2 after 90 mins)
Dundalk salvaged a good deal more than mere pride here as they deprived Shamrock Rovers of a first league and cup double in 33 years with David McMillan’s hat-trick helping to earn Filippo Giovagnoli’s side some precious silverware at the end of what has been a topsy-turvy season.
They came from behind once and survived a couple of close shaves in extra time before goals from Seán Hoare and McMillan decided it. Having had another rough week on the road in Europe, it was an impressive way to wrap a third cup success in six years and a spectacular end to this campaign for the 31-year-old striker who brought his tally to nine in seven games, seven of them in the last three rounds of this competition.
It is hard to imagine any event in Irish football missing a crowd quite like the cup final and this, the 100th one, actually had a slightly sorry feel about it before the two sides actually got the thing started. The fog looked like dry ice as it rolled in from the Havelock Square end through the entire 120 minutes, the more occasional fog horn added to the slightly surreal atmosphere as the evening wore on but the teams saved the occasion by producing another decent encounter.
That Dundalk won it is all the more impressive given the way they seemed to handicap themselves through the early stages of the second half with their defending of set pieces again atrocious, something the Dubliners capitalised on twice with Aaron Greene then Roberto Lopes scoring from Jack Byrne corners.
The midfielder was not nearly as influential here as he has been for Rovers through most of this season or was, for spells, in last year's final. Still, he had his moments, most of them at set pieces, and collectively Rovers had certainly made most of the early running in midfield where Dylan Watts and Aaron McEneff both moved the ball about with a lot of confidence.
Their efforts to really open up Dundalk from play didn't yield too much but for the first goal, 50 minutes in, the Louth side looked every bit as lost around their own six-yard box as they had done at Molde. Daniel Cleary's decision to take a few steps forward as the ball was coming in to be flicked on by Lee Grace, allowed Greene to make an awful lot of space for himself by taking just a couple back. When the ball arrived, his own header wasn't the greatest but pretty much all Gary Rogers could do was fling himself forward and he didn't have the good fortune to make the required block in the process.
Once exposed, the problem persisted. A few minutes later it should have been 2-0 when Liam Scales headed just over from another corner and in the 74th minute neither Brian Gartland nor Cameron Dummigan could get up high enough to prevent Lopes heading home Rovers' second of the night.
By then, though, that was the equaliser that would eventually push yet another final into extra time with McMillan having scored from play and the penalty spot to put Dundalk in front. The first involved some terrific work by Seán Gannon and a decent cross by Pat McEleney. The striker, though, was involved early in the move and then showed all of his strength and experience to react more quickly and decisively after he and Scales had both sought to meet the cross.
The 31-year-old pounced on the loose ball while the defender was still finding his feet again and his shot on the turn clipped the inside of the post before taking the width of the goal to cross the line.
Things were to get a lot better for him and a good deal worse for Scales starting three minutes later when Cleary won a penalty at the Rovers defender’s expense and McMillan put it away.
Having continued to hold their own in terms of possession and chances, Stephen Bradley's side came within a whisker of grabbing a winner in the 90 minute when Graham Burke fired across the face of the gal but neither Rhys Marshall nor McEneff could turn the ball home. Burke then fluffed a tremendous chance to put his side in front early in the first period of added time.
Dundalk were having to hang in a bit and Rogers, who had a good night, did well to save a Byrne free kick that might well have proved decisive. Instead, it was Giovagnoli's side who made the breakthrough from a set piece with a Jordan Flores free cleared as far as John Mountney whose attempted shot went to Hoare instead and his shot was deflected past Alan Mannus by the unfortunate Scales.
That put the Italian's team in the driving seat as the end approached but McMillan wasn't done yet and his finish as Rovers were caught on the break and Daniel Kelly sent him clear was superb. Rovers sought to pick themselves up for the few moments that were left but their dream of a double was dead. Dundalk had provided a reminder that they are still a force to be reckoned with.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus; O'Brien (Grace, h/t), Lopes, Scales; Finn (Marshall, 83 mins), Watts (Bolger, 83 mins), McEneff, S Kavanagh (Lafferty, 83 mins); Byrne; Burke, Greene (Williams, 105 mins).
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gartland (Hoare, 105 mins), Boyle, Cleary; Gannon (Leahy, 95 mins), Sloggett (Flores, 87 mins), Shields, Dummigan; McEleney (Mountney, 95 mins), McMillan, Duffy (Kelly, 111 mins).
Referee: R Harvey (Dublin).