St Patrick's Athletic will face Bohemians in their first FAI Cup final since 2014 after disposing of Dundalk 3-1 at Richmond Park.
Billy King and Pat Hoban swapped first-half goals before Matty Smith and Darragh Burns gave the Saints a thrilling win in front of a sold-out home crowd.
Despite suffering a tumultuous 2021, Dundalk came into the semi-final as the in-form team; unbeaten in their last seven and chasing a record seventh consecutive appearance in the decider.
However, Vinny Perth's men were also without a win in their last eight matches on the road and fell to a St Pat's side that have excelled this season under the management of their former captain Stephen O'Donnell.
With the league title race well and truly over, the semi-final win reignites the Saints' season and gives O’Donnell the chance to claim his first piece of silverware as a manager.
The 5,000 fans in attendance had crafted a bubbling atmosphere prior to kick-off, but were made to wait for the action to begin as proceedings were delayed to allow the smoke from flares to clear the pitch.
The hosts eventually got the game underway but it was Dundalk who had the first sight of goal when Will Patching's first-minute shot was gathered by on-loan Liverpool goalkeeper Vitezslav Jaros.
The match began at lightning pace as passes were drilled into feet and both sides charged at each other’s defence.
The two semi-finalists looked evenly matched early on, even if St Pat’s had Paddy Barrett and Jamie Lennon to thank for important interceptions around their own box.
The Saints began to create more chances midway through the half, though. First it was Burns – the 19-year-old winger who scored twice in the quarter-final against Wexford – who dropped his shoulder, glided past defender Darragh Leahy and struck a deflected shot just wide.
Then moments later, in the 25th minute, the hosts broke the deadlock. It was an unforgivable goal for the Lilywhites to concede. A Dundalk throw-in midway in their own half was directed inside to Greg Sloggett, who stumbled and fumbled the ball into the path of Billy King.
King charged unchallenged to the edge of the box and struck an uninspiring shot that wrong-footed Peter Cherrie and found its way into the net.
Pat’s were on top and had their fans in full voice as captain Ian Bermingham struck another effort just wide. However, it wasn’t long before Pat Hoban – the Cup’s most prolific scorer this year – had them silenced.
The equaliser was sparked by a flash of inexperience amongst the St Pat’s defence. Thirty yards from his own goal, 17-year-old James Abankwah was easily dispossessed by Will Patching, who threaded a pass through for 30-year-old Hoban to incisively finish. It was a triumph of Dundalk's experience over their hosts' youth.
Bohemians 0-0 Waterford and St Pat's 1-1 Dundalk at half-time in the #FAIcup semi-finals. Here are the goals from Richmond Park | Live updates: https://t.co/5IY3chG6gd Watch live on @RTE2 and @RTEplayer pic.twitter.com/fdkExWphg1— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) October 22, 2021
Acutely aware of how easily the other side could hurt them, both sides seemed willing to show the other respect as the second-half commenced in a cagier fashion.
While both teams exchanged half chances the opening 10 minutes of the half were played at a slower pace compared to the non-stop nature of the first.
However, the game was soon reignited when St Pat’s regained the lead courtesy of Burns and Smith. Impressive throughout the night, Burns sliced open the Dundalk defence with a perfect 30-yard pass which Smith latched onto and fired into the top right corner.
Aware that Lennon was on a yellow card, Stephen O’Donnell introduced ex-Dundalk man Robbie Benson to bring a cool head into midfield while Perth sent David McMillan on to chase another equaliser.
Dundalk came forward but failed to create chances beyond a Will Patching long shot which Jaros stretched to tip over the bar.
Chasing the game, Dundalk left space in behind. And in the 86th minute that was duly punished when Ronan Coughlan unleashed Burns, who raced into the box before cooly chipping over the on-rushing Cherrie.
St. Patrick's Athletic: Vitezslav Jaros; James Abankwah (Jak Hickman, 46), Lee Desmond, Paddy Barrett, Ian Bermingham; Chris Forrester (Jay McLelland, 79), Alfie Lewis, Jamie Lennon (Robbie Benson, 64); Billy King (Ronan Coughlan, 78), Daragh Burns (Shane Griffin, 89); Matty Smith.
Dundalk FC: Peter Cherrie; Cameron Dummigan (Raivis Jurkovskis, 78), Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy (Sami Ben Amar, 87); Greg Sloggett (Daniel Kelly, 72), Sam Stanton, Will Patching, Michael Duffy; Sean Murray (David McMillan, 78); Patrick Hoban.
Referee: Neil Doyle