by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United advanced to their third cup final of the season as they defeated local rivals Dundalk in a controversial Ford FAI Cup semi-final.
Gavin Brennan scored the only goal of the game from the spot after the visitors were reduced to nine men, firstly Darren Meenan saw red for a late tackle on Paul O’Conor and then Chris Shields was adjudged to have fouled Declan O’Brien in the box denying a clear goal scoring opportunity.
Drogheda manager Mick Cooke made four changes from the side that drew 2-2 with Shelbourne on Monday as the suspended quartet of Shane Grimes, David Cassidy, Alan Byrne and Alan McNally all returned while the Lilywhites lined up with former Drogheda player John Sullivan in place of the injured Mark Rossiter from the team that defeated Derry City 3-0 during the week.
The away side created the first opportunity of the game in a frantic opening as Brian Gartland headed narrowly wide from a Meenan free kick and a long ball into the Drogheda box a couple of minutes later was missed by Micheal Schlingermann but Stephen O’Donnell’s header floated harmlessly over.
Dundalk continued to apply pressure on the Drogheda goal and a lovely passing move involving Meenan, O’Donnell and Kurtis Byrne almost released Pat Hoban in on goal but Mick Daly made a vital interception.
The home side registered their first effort on target on 25 minutes as a quick counter attack resulted in Ryan Brennan laying the ball off to O’Conor but his tame effort from 20 yards was easy for Peter Cherrie in the Dundalk goal.
The Lilywhites were reduced to ten men shortly after as former United winger Darren Meenan was sent off by referee Anthony Buttimer for a two footed lunge on O’Conor. From the resulting free kick, David Cassidy saw his effort deflected wide by an outstretched arm from Richie Towell that was missed by the officials.
Things went from bad to worse for Dundalk as five minutes later Chris Shields tackled O’Brien in the penalty area and despite appearing to get a toe to the ball he was dismissed much to the frustration of manager Stephen Kenny and his players. Gavin Brennan, having scored from the spot against Shels on Monday, sent Cherrie the wrong way to give Drogheda the lead.
Despite the numerical advantage, it was Dundalk who finished the first half the stronger as firstly Cassidy gifted possession to Dane Massey and the full back picked out O’Donnell whose shot was blocked by Drogheda captain Derek Prendergast and then John Sullivan saw his close range header saved brilliantly by Schlingermann as United went into the interval in the lead.
Drogheda seemed content with passing the ball in their own half for much of the second period as they struggled to break down a resilient Dundalk defence as the visitors still offered a threat on the counter attack.
Substitute Tiarnan Mulvenna was introduced on 66 minutes and the striker, who spent the last two seasons with Drogheda, fired wide from 25 yards after cutting in past Daly on the left.
The Drogs struggled to get any momentum going in the second half as O’Brien headed wide from a Daly cross before Gavin Brennan drilled his shot over the bar following excellent approach play from Cassidy.
The Lilywhites almost equalised with five minutes remaining as Mulvenna evaded the challenge of both Grimes and McNally but his rising effort was tipped over the bar by Schlingermann for a corner from which United looked to hit Dundalk on the counter as Ryan Brennan released Grimes down the left but his powerful shot was expertly save by Cherrie.
Drogheda really should have sealed the game in stoppage time when a quickly taken free kick by Ryan Brennan found Peter Hynes who released Gavin Brennan with a clear run on goal from his own half but he sent his effort well wide from the edge of the box.
Dundalk sent several long balls into the box in the final seconds but it was to no avail as United hung on against the nine men to reach their first FAI Cup final since they last won the trophy in 2005.
Drogheda will now face Sligo Rovers in the Ford FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium on the 3rd of November.
by Robert O'Reilly
The biggest Louth derby in decades takes place on Sunday as Drogheda United and Dundalk battle in the semi-final of the Ford FAI Cup, kick off 1.45pm at Hunky Dorys Park.
United will be aiming to make it to a hat-trick of domestic cup finals having already tasted defeat in both the EA Sports and Setanta finals while their neighbours will be looking to put the icing on a fantastic season after they sealed European football for next year with a 3-0 victory over Derry City last Monday.
Drogheda manager Mick Cooke welcomes back the suspended quartet of David Cassidy, Shane Grimes, Alan Byrne and Alan McNally while Cathal Brady has shaken off a knock to give the Boynesiders a full squad to choose from.
Keith Ward is the only absentee for the Lilywhites as he continues his recovery from a cruciate ligament injury while Mark Rossiter and Stephen O’Donnell return to the squad.
Encounters between the sides have been tight this season with Dundalk defeating Drogheda by a single goal in the last two games while Drogheda squandered a two goal lead back in March in a 2-2 draw at Oriel Park.
Dundalk were knocked out of the cup at this stage last season by St. Patrick’s Athletic while the last time Drogheda advanced beyond the quarter-final round was the year they lifted the trophy back in 2005.
Speaking ahead of the game, Cooke was eager to stress that United will be ready for the challenge of Dundalk despite his side’s recent poor run of form
“Obviously it will be a great occasion on Sunday, it’s the first time both Louth teams have met in a cup semi-final. We should have a full house; there is a great buzz around Drogheda for the game.
“The matches I’ve had with Dundalk since coming to Drogheda have all been fantastic and all of them have been played in a great spirit, I can’t remember one bad moment from any of our games.
“Everyone has had game time over the last three weeks, so I’m really happy with that. We’ve had some good performances, but in the last 2 games we have given the opposition 2 goal head starts, but we were unlucky not to take anything from the Cork game and even in the Shels game we had good chances and the lads played well. We will be going into the game confident.
“League form goes out the window in cup semi-finals, but especially when you’re playing a local derby. It’s all about the day, I also wouldn’t write Dundalk off for the league just yet, there are three games to go and if you look at what happened to us last season, all the top teams lost in the run in, so there’s a lot of football to be played.
“All you can ask for in these games is to have a fully fit squad, which is what we have. On our day we fear no-one, the Aviva is a massive carrot for both teams and it will be a great final against one of the Rovers. “
Derek Prendergast (captain)
Paul O’Conor (Peter Hynes)
John Sullivan (Vinny Faherty 73’)
Stephen O’Donnell (Captain)
Patrick Hoban (John Mountney 38’)
Kurtis Byrne (Tiarnan Mulvenna 66’)
Gavin Brennan 31’
Mick Daly (yellow card) 91’
Darren Meenan (red card) 26’
Chris Shields (red card) 31’
Kurtis Byrne 62’
Stephen O’Donnell 73’