EA Sports Cup Final: It’s all just a little bit of history repeating

Derry City's Johnny Speak celebrates with Noel Larkin after the striker put the Candy Stripes 2-0 up in the 1988 League Cup final against Dundalk at Oriel Park.
Derry City's Johnny Speak celebrates with Noel Larkin after the striker put the Candy Stripes 2-0 up in the 1988 League Cup final against Dundalk at Oriel Park.

THE FIRST time Derry City met Dundalk in the League Cup Final Candy Stripe supporters travelled in their thousands to Oriel Park in anticipation of something special.

The date was October 13th, 1988 and it was Jim McLaughlin’s record-breaking side who clinched a convincing 4-0 victory against the team which had won the ‘double double’ the previous season.

The victory turned out to be something pretty special, a turning point in the club’s history even as it was Derry’s first major trophy as a Premier Division club and, of course, the beginning of that historic treble completed by the League and FAI Cup triumphs several months later.

It was also the beginning of Derry’s love affair with the League Cup competition and the first of an incredible 11 victories in total.

The two teams met again in the 1989/90 League Cup Final when Dundalk exacted revenge, winning 4-1 on penalties after the game had ended 1-1.

However, the previous year, a rampant Derry had tore apart their Co. Louth opposition in front of a bumper attendance. Felix Healy was outstanding and his cross for Johnny Speak gave the Candy Stripes the advantage after 28 minutes.

Felix Healy, Kevin Brady and Jack Kaey celebrate with the travelling support after Derry City defeated Dundalk 4-0 to win their first ever League Cup final against Dundalk at Oriel Park in October 13th, 1988.

Felix Healy, Kevin Brady and Jack Kaey celebrate with the travelling support after Derry City defeated Dundalk 4-0 to win their first ever League Cup final against Dundalk at Oriel Park in October 13th, 1988.

Noel Larkin then banged in the second five minutes later before Healy dribbled through the Dundalk defence before setting up Paul Doolin to make it 3-0 just before the half-time break. Doolin added a fourth 13 minutes into second half to ensure Derry’s name was on the cup for the first time in the club’s history.

It was a significant win for the newly assembled Derry team which strengthened its belief and they went on to complete the clean sweep of domestic trophies which has never been achieved since, now 30 years on.

It was a phenomenal feat and one which still stands to this day. Now three decades on and it’s funny to think that the current Dundalk team could potentially replicate that achievement and take a huge leap towards the treble with victory over Derry City at Brandywell in Saturday’s EA Sports Cup Final.

Football is a funny old game and Dundalk are no doubt capable of winning both the FAI Cup - having navigated their passage into the semi-finals with a 3-1 win at Waterford last night - and League Cup along with the League title which they are already well on their way to clinching as they hold a 10 point advantage with just six games remaining.

Derry go into the game as huge underdogs despite having home advantage and having held the Lilywhites to a draw on three occasions this season already. But just as it did to the legendary ‘89ers, victory on Saturday would mean more than just silverware, it could inspire this recently built Derry team to create a winning mentality and give them belief going into the 2020 campaign.

Derry City Football Club’s social media admins have been doing a tremendous job in the build up to Saturday’s game by reminding us of the club’s unrivalled tradition in the League Cup. It all began with that win in 1988 in Dundalk.

The Brandywell club then went on to defeat Limerick 2-0 on February 27th 1991 for their second victory in the competition. That was the first of three consecutive victories as wins over Bohemians at Dalymount (0-1) on January 1992 and Shelbourne (3-1) in the 1993/94 season followed.

The Foylesiders would have to wait another five years before they recaptured the League Cup trophy as they defeated Athlone Town on December 1999.

A 2-1 win over UCD at the Belfield on September 2005 was the next time City would win the trophy but from there, the club began to make the competition their own. That famous, nail-biting victory over Shelbourne at the Brandywell in 2006 after a penalty shootout was also the first trophy of a double winning season under Stephen Kenny as his side came so close to completing the treble that year.

They retained the trophy after a 1-0 win over Bohemians at Brandywell after extra-time in September 2007 and they blew away First Division outfit, Wexford Youths in the 2008 decider at Ferrycarrig Park, winning 6-1. A rare win over Cork at Turner’s Cross (1-0) in 2011 saw City clinch the trophy and the club bridged a seven year gap when they defeated Cobh Ramblers in a one-sided affair at Brandywell under Kenny Shiels last season.

It’s remarkable to think how the club has dominated the competition. They’ve also finished runners-up twice. Dundalk are nearest to Derry in that they’ve won it six times - 2017 their last win. St Pat’s are next with four wins while Bohs, Limerick, Athlone and Cork City have all won it three times.

Much has been made about the 8p.m. kick-off time on Saturday. Dundalk assistant, John Gill was extremely complimentary about Derry after the FAI Cup game at Brandywell, claiming Declan Devine’s team was ‘like looking at an old Derry team again’. And he’s expecting another ‘colossal’ battle against the Candy Stripes. However, on the topic of that strange kick-off time, he was far from happy and felt it would put Dundalk fans off from travelling.

“The timing of it, the kick-off time, is going to stop a lot of our fans coming up. I think everyone would agree this final has never been played at this time before.”

That doesn’t seem to be the case, however, as it’s understood Dundalk have almost sold out their allocation of tickets for the final. It promises to be a sell-out and rightly so given the occasion and the fact these two exciting teams have served up some sensational football matches this season.

And what Dundalk fan in the right mind would miss out on what could potentially be the beginning of something pretty remarkable, matching Derry’s historic treble winners?

While Devine and his team will be keen to stop Dundalk from emulating that famous Derry side on the 30th anniversary of the treble, as City captain, Barry McNamee said recently, their priority is to win silverware and write their own piece of history. Whatever happens, if it’s anywhere near as pulsating and tense as the FAI Cup second round clash three weeks ago, then it’s a match not to be missed!