Silver lining proves so sweet for Cork City

FAI Cup success ensures the season ends on a high for John Caulfield’s side

For Gerry Adams, apparently, this was a totally new experience, with the Sinn Féin leader tweeting that the FAI Cup final was his first ever football match. For the Dundalk team he had come to support, there was a novelty factor too, albeit entirely unwanted: Stephen Kenny's men are not often beaten in the big games these days by another Irish side.

It took guts and sometimes grim determination for Cork City to pull it off this time.

But on a day when Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane were there watching Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle, it was Seán Maguire who ultimately had the final say against the club that let him go a year ago.

The 22-year-old struggled for the best part of the afternoon to escape the close attention of Brian Gartland but when the defender's composure momentarily abandoned him with the game almost done, the striker seized his chance and scored.

Scrappy game

“It was a scrappy game,” he said afterwards, “and it was going to take something like that to decide it but I’m glad it fell to me.

“For the last 10 minutes I was actually thinking to myself where I was going to put my penalty but when I saw the half chance I just went for it and obviously it took a deflection. I had the jersey off and all before the ball even crossed the line. It was an amazing feeling.”

He had talked beforehand about the team earning collective redemption after having come up short in the league but, whatever about that, the scale of the personal exultation was clear to see as he spun away to celebrate his 29th competitive goal of the season.

For his manager there was joy but relief too.

John Caulfield had been desperate to see his side win and so provide themselves with a springboard for greater success next season but they started so poorly that he feared the game might well be lost before they had even gotten into it.

“At the end of the first half I was delighted to get in and have a word with them because we were awful; we were standing off them, not pressurising them... we weren’t like ourselves.

“We were very nervous, I don’t know why but at half-time we had a chat. I said, ‘let’s get into the game,’ and in the second half I thought we were fantastic.”

Both sides, he acknowledged, had chances to win it with Alan Bennett and Chiedozie Ogbene going closest for Cork as the game wore on. Neither side , it seemed, would ever give up and with the game still finely balanced as the end approached Caulfield consulted Alan Bennett as to whether it was time to shut up shop and settle for spot kicks. No, the veteran defender told him, they would go for it.

“It might not have looked like it at times,” said the manager with a smile, “but we wanted to win it.”

In the end, they did and in the process put at least a dent in Dundalk’s developing dominance of the Irish game.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of. Dundalk are a phenomenal team, their European exploits show that [but] it is tough to take when you watch them winning so much. In previous years we were hoping we could win things, now we believed we could.

Great scenes

“They were great scenes at the end. For a lot of people it’s the end of four, five, six years of hard work and disappointment as Cork fans. To finish mid-table and then get so close. It’s brilliant to get there and win the cup.

“I said all along that this team is an outstanding team and hopefully winning the cup will give the belief to the players to move on. The standard that Dundalk are at is phenomenal; they will go to another level and we have to be up there again.”

“We’ve been the bridesmaids, I suppose, and the first trophy is the hardest one to get. We want to be up there challenging for the league and cup next year and hopefully we’ll be back and stronger again.”

For Stephen Kenny, there will again be a sense of excitement and expectation about next season; having won the league for a third straight year Dundalk will be back in the Champions League qualifiers again and are bound to start as favourites to maintain their domestic success. But the disappointment was clearly difficult to deal with.

“It’s a tough one, we’re really disappointed because I want the players to get the rewards for their amazing efforts. It just shows you how a club can grow and how a really good football team can galvanise a community, galvanise a town and give it something to live for. But we congratulate Cork.”

That is something he has not had to say too often and, assuredly, he will be determined to make sure it need not be said again.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times