Opinion: Anybody but Dundalk for FAI Cup glory
Not for the first time this season, Derry City went toe-to-toe with Dundalk but unfortunately, at the fifth time of asking, they were unable to get the better of the Lilywhites.
Every encounter this season has been a belter.
Even in the first match up at the Brandywell, which Vinny Perth’s side won 2-0, Derry had chances at crucial stages but didn’t take them.
In their last two cup ties, the sides couldn’t be seperated after 90 minutes but on both occasions Dundalk have come out the victors.
Saturday night’s EA Sports Cup penalty shoot-out win means the Oriel Park men have taken an important first step toward becoming only the second side ever in League of Ireland history to win the domestic treble.
No side apart from Jim McLaughlin’s legendary 1988/89 squad have won the treble and I for one, want that record to remain in tact come the end of the year.
This might sound like a bad loser rambling (and you’d be right to an extent), but I’m only a bad loser because I don’t want Dundalk to win the treble - FACT.
I won’t hide it. In fact I told Dundalk midfielder Patrick McEleney and assistant manager, Ruaidhri Higgins, after their FAI Cup win that if they defeated Derry in the EA Sports Cup Final, I would be cheering on every other side that can stop them winning the treble. They both laughed and perhaps thought I was joking until they saw my face. It wasn’t a joke. It still isn’t.
I have no quams in seeing them win another double because, let’s be fair, they are the best team in the country, but as far as the treble goes, it’s ‘take no prisoners’ in my book. Sorry lads!
So now they’ve beaten Derry in the final, I’ve gone completely ABD (Anyone But Dundalk!) in a bid to make sure someone else lifts the FAI Cup.
As people who know me will testify I enjoy watching the odd game or two and have possibly jumped on a few bandwagons over the years (allegedly!).
In fact only a few years ago I was delighted, like many League of Ireland followers, when Dundalk under ex-Derry boss Stephen Kenny were doing so well in the Europa League.
But the minute the treble is on the horizon for the Dundalk, the gloves come off and I have no shame in admitting that I will be cheering on Sligo Rovers in the FAI Cup semi-final.
Then if Dundalk reach the final, I will be praying and hoping that either Bohemians or Shamrock Rovers can turn them over in the Aviva showdown, in November.
Sadly, I believe their weekend EA Sports Cup success could been their toughest test in the remaining cup games this season, but I really hope I’m wrong.
Deep down and while they would never admit it, the Dundalk players, staff and supporters would also probably believe that facing a Derry City side who never seem to know when they are beaten in front of a passionate Brandywell support, is worse than coming up against anyone at Lansdowne Road.
On Saturday, Derry gave it their all to see off the league leaders, who by this time next week will have probably put the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division trophy back in the cabinet alongside the EA Sports Cup, but once again it just wasn’t enough.
However, the true Derry fans, not the idiots who ran onto the pitch and clashed with some equally stupid Dundalk fans, left the Lone Moor Road venue with a feeling they had got their football club back.
After the season at Maginn Park and Kenny Shiels’ final season in charge last year, the club was drifting away from the fans but this campaign Declan Devine has brought that passion and ‘roll the sleeves up’ attitude back to the team. Indeed, that’s exactly what Declan stated he would do when he said he would only be signing players who wanted to play for Derry City. On Saturday, that was shown in bucket loads.
Devine who was part on Kenny’s back-room team which had memorable 2006 League Cup win over Shelbourne at a packed Brandywell, felt Saturday evening’s atmosphere was just as special.
That night the Candy Stripes were down to nine men with David Forde and Kilian Brennan both red carded against the Dubliners but the passion and determination of the players and the supporters ensured Derry took the game to penalties with Pat Jennings Jnr going down in folklore amongst the Brandywell faithful as the hero in an epic shoot-out.
While that didn’t happen at the weekend, this squad seem to have that little bit of spark, similar to the 2006, and Devine felt the atmosphere on Saturday was the same as the aforementioned cup of some 13 years ago.
“This is a magnificent occasion tonight and we have just come up short,” insisted the Derry boss.
“The one thing that I will say is that I have been at this club for about 14 years of my life and tonight and the cup final in 2006, there was no difference.
“The stands are full, the people are vocal and we appreciate what they have given. It’s a proud night to be a Derry man because when you see the Brandywell the way it was tonight, then you should stick your chest out, everyone from supporters to players.
“Everybody should leave the Brandywell in a positive frame of mind knowing that Derry City Football Club is a special place.”
Who could disagree with those words?
The new look Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium and Derry City FC proved on Saturday night that it’s starting to get it’s ‘X Factor’ back.
The next step is winning silverware, which doesn’t look that far away but hopefully, on the club’s 30th anniversary since winning the treble, they will remain as the only club in the League of Ireland history to have achieved such a feat.
ABD til I die!