Monaghan United 1 - 0 Dundalk
Published: August 17, 2010
Midfielder Cathal O’Connor sent Gortakeegan into ecstasy when he struck with four minutes remaining to propel Monaghan United into the final of the EA Sports Cup at the expense of their traditional north- east rivals Dundalk in a gripping semi-final.
A fascinating and full-blooded contest looked bound for extra-time until O’Connor, collecting a measured cross field pass from substitute Darragh Hanaphy, cut inside and drilled a low shot beyond Peter Cherrie to book the First Division side their first cup final berth in senior soccer.
United had looked ill-at-ease during a frenetic beginning to the game. Consistently unhinged by Simon Madden’s raids down their left flank, they could have fallen behind in the opening minutes if Matthew Tipton had kept his firmly struck volley on target.
But the Mons, encouraged by an enthusiastic home support who often matched their more numerous Dundalk counterparts in vocal power, gradually settled. From their first corner in the 16th minute, captain Brian Gartland beat Peter Cherrie to the ball but saw his header drop outside the post.
Dundalk lost captain Liam Burns to injury after only 23 minutes, Wayne Hatswell replacing him at the heart of the defence. The enforced change seemed to unsettle the visitors, and they were exposed when O’Connor broke clear on goal in the 26th minute only for Cherrie to make a fine blocking save, with Philly Hughes cannoning his follow-up shot off the bravely intervening Hatswell.
Gartland sent another flying header just over the crossbar in the 33rd minute, but five minutes later Dundalk centre back Tom Miller came equally close with a header from Madden’s corner.
After the resumption the Premier Division side took a temporary grip of the game. Tipton stole the ball away from Sean Brennan and ended a determined run goal ward with a flighted shot that Gabriel Sava caught just underneath his crossbar.
However, the seesaw nature of the game reasserted itself in the 66th minute when United’s Brennan, spotting that Cherrie had strayed a distance off his line, crashed a soaring 30-yard free-kick off the crossbar.
Tension ratcheted up close to unbearable levels as the game progressed through its final quarter. Shane Grimes forced Cherrie into an alert save, and Stephen McCrossan also came close from distance as the Mons strove to settle the issue in their favour. But Dundalk carried considerable menace when bursting quickly from defence, and when they forced a corner with six minutes remaining Hatswell powered a header just past the far post.
O’Connor’s superb 86th minute finish seemed to break the spirit of the visitors, and the game should have been put beyond their reach with two minutes remaining when Hanaphy seized on a poor back pass and only a great instinctive save from Cherrie kept out Barry Clancy’s goalbound drive.
Instead United were forced to endure four agonising additional minutes before referee Damien Hancock called time on a memorable game, and set in motion jubilant scenes of celebration among the home side and their supporters.
Monaghan United: Sava; Collins, McMahon (Whelan 54), Gartland, Grimes; O’Connor, McCrossan, Byrne, Clancy; Hughes (Hanaphy 79), Brennan (Bermingham 72).
Subs not used: McNeill, Costigan.
Dundalk: Cherrie; Madden, Burns (Hatswell 23), Miller, Kelly; Bennett, Kearns, McDonnell, Maher (McGuigan 72); Tipton, Lennon (Kuduzovic 72). Subs not used: Gaynor, Breen.
Referee: Damien Hancock