EA Sports Cup final
Dundalk 3-2 Shamrock Rovers
Dundalk’s 12-year wait for a trophy finally came to an end as Stephen Kenny’s side clinched the EA Sports Cup after a pulsating 3-2 win over Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park.
Left-back Dane Massey was the Lilywhites hero, hitting two goals to help the Louth club to their fifth success in the competition.
Massey opened the scoring in the 5th minute with a stunning free-kick but Rovers bossed the remainder of the half and deservedly went in level at the break thanks to Jason McGuinness’ equaliser.
The outcome of the final was decided in the space of three minutes at the beginning of the second-half when Massey put Dundalk back in front before Patrick Hoban made it 3-1 soon after.
Rovers pulled one back through Ciaran Kilduff with 13 minutes to go but Dundalk held on to signal the first trophy of the Stephen Kenny era.
An early goal was just what the neutrals would have wanted and it arrived after just four minutes. McGuinness’ foul on David McMillan afforded Massey an opportunity to size up the Rovers goal from 20-yards and his sublime free-kick, in front of the Rovers fans in the temporary stand behind the goals, left Hyland with no chance.
The visitors looked the more likely after that and it was no surprise when they pulled level in the 29th minute. Sean O’Connor supplied the ammunition, his corner from the right kept alive by Luke Byrne and McGuinness came up trumps in the crowded six-yard box to turn the ball home.
It was Rovers who finished the half still in the ascendancy and Sean Gannon had to clear to stop O’Connor from making it 2-1 just before the break after Ronan Finn had found space on the right.
The frustration for the first-half was forgotten as Dundalk forged ahead within two minutes of the restart.
It came from their first corner of the game. Daryl Horgan sent in the set-piece from the right and Massey popped up to squeeze the ball in at Hyland’s left hand post to make Oriel Park erupt.
Rovers reacted well to Massey’s first-half strike but, before they had regained their focus, they found themselves 3-1 down as Dundalk sensationally took control of the final.
Horgan did well to win a corner on the left and, when two Rovers defenders collided in the penalty area from Ruaidhri Higgins’ delivery, Hoban was left in oceans of space to plant a header past Hyland via the underside of the crossbar.
Substitute Kilduff set up a grandstand finish when he beat Sava with a fine downward header with 13 minutes to go. The Dundalk players were left aggrieved when the referee’s assistant awarded a throw in on the right to the visitors and Rovers capitalised with Stephen McPhail’s measured cross given the finish it deserved.
The general feeling was that Dundalk needed a fourth to kill it off and they went within a whisker of getting it in the 83rd minute when Towell saw a curling effort from 20-yards just past the post.
Rovers pushed hard in a bid to force extra time, but Dundalk stood firm to end their long barren run.
Dundalk FC: Gabriel Sava; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Mark Rossiter (Andy Boyle 84), Dane Massey; Keith Ward (Chris Shields HT), Ruaidhri Higgins (John Mountney 79), Richie Towell Daryl Horgan; Patrick Hoban, David McMillan.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; Simon Madden, Jason McGuinness, Conor Kenna, Luke Byrne; Sean O’Connor, Patrick Cregg, Stephen McPhail; Kieran Marty Waters (Ciaran Kilduff 69), Karl Sheppard (Dean Kelly 80), Ronan Finn (Gary McCabe 73).
Referee: Graham Kelly (Cork).