Every football fan loves cup football. Excitement, drama, shocks and occasions are the tasty ingredients of any cup competition.

On Sunday, Ireland's two best teams go head to head in the FAI Cup final as league champions Dundalk take on nearest challengers Cork City.  

These clubs have been rivals over the past two seasons in the league and while Dundalk have won the war, there is a major battle to come on a stage befitting of any player this Sunday.

Dundalk will go into the game as favourites, and rightly so. They have been the stand-out team in this country for two years and I'm not sure how much more praise we can give Stephen Kenny and his players. They have been magnificent.

The Lilywhites possess an enormous appetite and hunger to win and it’s evident every week you watch them.

There is a desire amongst the group of players to achieve and at a relentless pace.

They play with a freedom and want to express themselves. The 92-year-old record for most league goals scored in a season (78) that was toppled last week tells you all you need to know about this team crafted by Kenny.

What I admire most about this Dundalk is that exact word - 'team’.

Their unity is unrivalled in the League of Ireland and while they have some star players, it's never just about them, it's about everyone.

The club captain Stephen O'Donnell sat with me recently on Soccer Republic and in answering one of the questions, he gave huge praise to the substitutes and other players we wouldn't see play every week.

He said without their standards in training, the starting XI wouldn't be as good because they all train as hard as each other. And that is regardless of which players are getting selected.  

He said Kenny must take great praise for this because he treats every single player the same way and with the utmost respect - and that is something that is not too common in football. 

I've picked out a few examples from when the teams met earlier in the season at Turner's Cross. This was a game which, in my opinion, was the best we saw this season. It’s also the best yardstick to judge these teams against each other.

In the first video you can see just how good Dundalk are in possession and how quickly they can transition from defence into attack.

The quality of player they possess in the middle of the park means they can pass the ball quickly and more importantly – forward quickly – something which a lot of teams in the league do not do.

FAI Cup analysis clip 1

Ronan Finn is always in a position to receive the ball and his team-mates trust him with the ball.

David McMillan is a tireless worker and he has improved hugely on his hold-up play, which allows others to play off him.

Darren Meenan and Daryl Horgan are so quick on the wings and are always looking to threaten in behind.

That old saying goes that defenders hate playing against pace, and if you’re a Cork City defender it definitely is the case because, to be blunt, they don’t have much of it.

They will certainly have to try and keep everything in front of them and with the space at the Aviva Stadium, it’s going to prove next to impossible to do that for 90 minutes.

Once they breach that back four, Richie Towell is going to come alive because his late runs into the box, coming onto pull-backs from wide areas, is where he is deadly.

He has now scored 43 goals in 96 league matches for Dundalk, a staggering  total from a central midfielder.

There is speculation that O'Donnell may be struggling with an injury and if that's the case that's a real blow for both Stephen and the team.

However, if he does miss out they have a top-quality replacement in Chris Shields. He would play every week in any other midfield in the country and his performance in the quarter-final demolition of Sligo Rovers was one of the highlights of the competition so far. The fact he would otherwise be set for a place on the bench if O’Donnell was fit gives you an indication of just how strong this Dundalk team are.

I have been highly critical of Cork City's approach throughout the season. For a club of their size and for the players they have at their disposal, I just feel they could be playing a much better brand of football.

At Turner's Cross they can be great, they can get the ball down and pass it, create plenty of chances and score plenty of goals.

Away from home though, it's a completely different story and I just don't get it. They should have no fear going to any ground in the country. They should be able to impose themselves on any team in any away ground just like they do at home.

If we see conservative Cork on Sunday, I really fear for them because if you keep knocking long, hopeful balls up the pitch and give away possession against this Dundalk team, you are in for a really long afternoon.

I've picked out two examples of what hopefully we won't see on Sunday. 

FAI Cup analysis clip 2

They are well able to pass and play as my next examples below will show.

Colin Healy and Liam Miller can run games if they play through the middle of the park.

A lot of the time they are bypassed and I hate it. I also have to point out that whilst I'll praise those two they also need to be more demanding and want the ball too. When I've watched Cork this season, I think they can do more, especially Miller.

This is an area where I think John Caulfield has a big decision to make. Healy played against Dundalk earlier in the season but hasn't featured much in the second part of the season.

Miller has played a lot in that deep-lying midfield role. I'd much prefer to see Healy there because he is stronger and more physical than Miller and better defensively.

This would free up Miller and allow him to pick up the ball further up the pitch. In this area he could create more and also get shots off.

I'd play Garry Buckley beside him too because he has great legs and energy, which would help Healy and Miller and also you'll need lots of energy against Dundalk’s three in midfield.

Billy Dennehy is always a threat and has been ever since he returned to Cork City from Shamrock Rovers.

He has scored 11 league goals this season, a good return considering he missed a handful of games mid-season after a fallout with the manager. He will play wide on the right and he has given Dane Massey a few problems before so he'll certainly need watching.

Cork can be very dangerous also from set pieces and considering their height advantage, that could well be a crucial area on Sunday both attacking and defending.

Mark O'Sullivan is another one who has done great for Caulfield and he'll be hoping he can crown off two brilliant seasons with a goal at the Aviva – it was from a set-piece that O’Sullivan headed home to secure Cork a draw in Oriel Park in July and it’s certainly going to be something they’ll look at doing again.

He's a big, bustling centre forward, almost a throwback to the old-fashioned types – a Jon Walters of the League of Ireland.

He relishes the physical challenge with centre-halves, and neither Brian Gartland nor Andy Boyle like facing him.

He came on for 20 minutes in the game at Turner’s Cross and below I'll show you just the kind of impact he can have. He won every header and caused consternation in Dundalk’s back four. Add that goal in Oriel Park, he could prove to be a big player Sunday.

FAI Cup analysis clip 3


I think this will be a very big ask for Cork City. I really want to see the Rebels take the game to them though, and if they do that and have a positive approach I really think they can cause Dundalk problems.

I saw enough in the games earlier in the season to suggest they can win this, depending on the approach.

I'm really looking forward to seeing this great Dundalk team zipping the ball around in the wide open spaces of the Aviva Stadium - the big pitch will really suit them.

We could be in for something special on Sunday. I think Dundalk will just edge it but they'll have to fight right to the end.

Written by Alan Cawley, Analysis edited by Kevin Brannigan

Cork City v Dundalk is live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player from 12.10pm on Sunday. Coverage also includes Wexford Youths v Shelbourne.

Listen to live commentary on Sunday Sport on Radio One. The FAI Cup final kicks-off at 3.30pm