DERRY CITY’s historic 1989 treble heroics remain unmatched in the modern League of Ireland era despite the best efforts of Derry native, Michael Duffy and his Dundalk teammates.
The former Derry City winger had resurrected Dundalk’s challenge for a clean sweep of trophies with a stunning 94th minute equaliser at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Another former Candy Stripe, Aaron McEneff had appeared to have ended the Co. Louth side’s hopes of sweeping the board when he confidently dispatched his 90th minute penalty.
However, the football gods seemed to be toying with us Derry ‘wans’ as Duffy’s brilliant strike ensured 30 extra minutes of nervous tension for supporters of the Brandywell club.
As a Derry man, Duffy would have grown up listening to stories about the famous ‘89ers and he did his best to emulate his hometown heroes and earn his place in League of Ireland folklore when heavily involved in the last action of extra-time.
He picked out another ex-Derry City man, Georgie Kelly, inside the six yard box but the striker was denied by the superb Alan Mannus who got the slightest of touches to force a penalty shootout.
Unfortunately for Duffy and Dundalk, the Galliagh man missed his spotkick as he smashed his effort off the crossbar - his second penalty miss in an FAI Cup Final!
It’s difficult to criticise Duffy, however, who should now be a shoe-in for the PFAI Player of the Year award, given he netted the winning goal in the cup semi-final against Sligo Rovers and kept alive Dundalk’s treble hopes with that last ditch equaliser.
And while he certainly didn’t have his best game in a Dundalk shirt, hopefully the winger’s goal contribution in front of Mick McCarthy will give the Republic of Ireland manager some food for thought.
Meanwhile, Dan Cleary’s penalty was saved by Mannus and Gary O’Neill fired past Gary Rogers to bridge a 32 years gap since Rovers’ last success.
Rovers deserved the win on the day and as the legendary, Derry City striker, Liam Coyle said afterwards, it was ‘the lesser of the two evils’ as the 89ers’ legacy remains intact.
From a Derry perspective it was great to see so many ex-Candy Stripes involved in the showpiece at the Aviva Stadium.
In the 2018 Final it was Patrick McEleney who stole the headlines when he rose superbly to head home Sean Gannon’s cross as Dundalk completed the double.
And on Sunday, McEneff and Duffy played starring roles in the game with Kelly and Danny Lafferty also involved and Dean Jarvis on the bench for Dundalk.
Ex-City midfielder, Ruaidhri Higgins also deserves great credit as he helped guide the Lilywhites to the cusp of greatness and that ultimately elusive treble in his first season as assistant boss.
While it will be hard to stomach for lots of Derry fans, McEneff will feel like his move to Tallaght was justified as he adds the FAI trophy to the EA Sports Cup title he won last year with his hometown club and, for me, the midfielder rivalled Brian Gartland and Roberto Lopes for the man of the match accolade.
The fact this outstanding Dundalk team, the best of its generation, fell at the final hurdle proves how special Derry City’s 1989 treble winners actually were.
Yes, you have to have a large element of good fortune along the way but it’s an incredible feat which proved a step too far for a team which has dominated the domestic game over the past five years.
“To win doubles or trebles, you’ve got to have everything go your way,” Dundalk boss, Vinny Perth said afterwards. Today, it just didn’t. I know they were lighting candles in Derry. I suppose some people might have choked on their Sunday evening sandwiches if Vinny Perth had won a treble. But look, everything has to go your way and it shows how difficult it is to achieve that.
“Only the great Jim McLaughlin has done it, I can live with that. He’s a special man. I’ll take it on the chin.”
The Brandywell native is, indeed, a special man who led a special band of players to that unique treble triumph 30 years ago - an achievement which has yet to be equalled!