Derry City 1, Dundalk 2
DERRY CITY’s hopes of reaching a third FAI Cup final in five years were crushed by holders, Dundalk who came from behind to book their place in the 2016 decider.
It was a heroic effort from the home side who had got off to a glorious start to this semi-final replay but it just wasn’t enough as Dundalk’s Ronan Finn emerged the hero and completed the comeback.
The Lilywhites remain on course for consecutive league and cup doubles this season and will face a repeat of the 2015 decider against Cork on November 6th as their fixture headache worsens. But Stephen Kenny will certainly not mind an extra game, even if it is just three days after a Europa League group game in Russia.
It was only the second time Dundalk have beaten Derry in the competition and the first since the 1988 final at Dalymount Park.
And it had all started so well for the Candystripes as Ronan Curtis put them ahead after just three minutes and they bossed possession for large spells.
However, a dubious penalty decision and a conversion from Ciaran Kilduff got Dundalk back on terms six minutes before the break.
And Finn rose highest on 68 minutes to head Darren Meenan’s cross into the net and sent Dundalk into the Final.
Kenny Shiels once again opted for three at the back in an offensive 3-5-2 formation with Curtis doing a magnificent job in leading the attack with Rory Patterson in support.
The Derry boss made three changes to the team which earned a replay in the 2-2 draw in Oriel Park just two days previously. Harry Monaghan, Curtis and Ben Doherty were preferred to the injured Ryan McBride and Lukas Schubert and Nathan Boyle who were named on the bench.
His opposite number, Stephen Kenny made five changes as Brian Gartland, Robbie Benson, Darren Meenan, Sean Gannon and Ronan Finn were all handed starts.
The home side made a blistering start to the game and shocked the Lilywhites when taking the lead after just three minutes.
Monaghan did superbly to apply pressure on the Dundalk defence and when he muscled Gartland off the ball, it broke to Barry McNamee.
The Ramelton man drove into the box before cutting the ball back to Curtis five yards from the net and he poked it past Gabriel Sava for his fourth goal in seven days!
Dundalk were warming to the occasion and when Sean Gannon got in behind Doherty on the right flank he found John Mountney lurking on the edge of the area but the midfielder blasted over the bar.
Gartland had a chance from a Mountney corner kick on 14 minutes but he headed wide of the target.
Derry were also threatening from corner kicks and Aaron McEneff and Niclas Vemmelund sent promising efforts over the crossbar.
The visitors were slowly building momentum and after a sustained period of pressure Robbie Benson was brought down inside the area as he attempted to turn Vemmelund and the referee pointed to the spot after consulting with the official behind the goal.
Up stepped Kilduff, who netted Dundalk’s second goal in the 2-2 draw on Sunday and he slotted neatly into the corner of the net.
McEneff then came so close to giving Derry the lead again when his powerful free-kick deflected narrowly wide of the post and behind for a corner.
Dundalk’s man of the moment, Daryl Horgan was introduced at the interval for Benson to add extra potency to the Lilywhites’ attack.
But it was Derry who came close to adding a second 60 seconds into the second half as Curtis latched onto a long ball over the top, took it down superbly and got his shot on target but Sava beat it away and Gartland cleared the danger.
Derry were dominant and when Gartland lost possession deep inside his own half, McEneff picked up the pieces and his low strike from 25 yards was saved by Sava.
Against the run of play, Darren Meenan swung in a terrific cross from the right and Finn’s glancing header found the far corner of the net to give the holders the advantage. It was a bitter blow for the home side who were on the ascendancy at the time.
In the end Dundalk closed the game out to set up a repeat of the 2015 decider against Cork.
But it was a heroic effort from this young Derry City side who now hope to secure European football through their league position with a trip to Longford up next.
Derry City: G. Doherty: C. McDermott, N. Vemmelund, D. Jarvis; B. Doherty (N. Boyle); C. McCormack, A. McEneff, H. Monaghan (L. Schubert 89), B. McNamee; R. Patterson, R. Curtis; Subs Not Used - S. Patton, K. Ward, J. Daniels, N. Boyle, C. Castells, R. Holden.
Dundalk: G. Sava; S. Gannon, B. Gartland, P. Barrett, S. Grimes; J. Mountney, C. Shields, R. Finn, D. Meenan (A. Boyle 74); R. Benson (D. Horgan h-t), C. Kilduff (D. McMillan 64); Subs Not Used - G. Rogers, G. Poynton, C. O’Connor, A. Keane.
Referee - David McKeon.