Former Dundalk striker Sean Maguire fires Cork City to FAI Cup final win
FAI Cup final: Cork City 1 Dundalk 0 (after extra-time)
THEY say a penalty shootout is the cruellest way to lose a game of football. But of course, that’s not exactly true.
Try a deflected shot that spins into the unguarded part of the net in stoppage-time of extratime in a cup final. Now, that’s cruel. It was pure devastation for SSE Airtricity League champions Dundalk and pure ecstasy for Cork City as soon as Sean Maguire’s rightfooted shot from roughly 12 yards was re-routed by the leg of Dundalk defender Brian Gartland.
Gary Rogers, in the Dundalk goal, was completely wrong-footed by the deflection as Maguire wheeled away in delight towards the Cork City fans behind the goal. Flares were lit and the Cork bench erupted. At the other end of the stadium, a terrible hush descended upon the Dundalk supporters, while the players wearing white crumpled all over the field.
Dundalk still had a few seconds to mount another assault on the Cork goal but it came to nothing as the men from the Rebel county denied their rivals a double-double. It was the stuff of fantasy for Kilkenny man and former Dundalk player Maguire who was overlooked for last year’s Lilywhites’ cup final squad before being signed by Cork manager John Caulfield in the close season.
It was Maguire’s 29th goal of a remarkable season - and he won’t score a more important one for the rest of his career: “I didn’t really know much about Sean when I signed him,” said Cork boss John Caulfield afterwards.
“I knew who he was and what he could do but I hadn’t really seen him perform. He’s a really humble guy, feet on the ground, a lovely person and he worked hard. You could see very quickly he was just a phenomenal player. He was outstanding for us this season. I like fellas who really want it and he’s one of those.”
It was ironic, too, that Maguire was kept quiet as a mouse by Gartland for virtually the entire game. But from Steven Beattie’s long, hopeful throw-in, the ball fell to the 22-year-old who, for once, had just about enough time to get a shot away. And with one shortened swing of his right boot, the former West Ham player left a glowing archive in the history of the FAI Cup.
It was rough justice on Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk side who had less than two days to prepare for yesterday’s cup final after returning from their Europa League tie with Zenit St Petersburg in the early hours of Friday morning. The league champions were the better side in Sunday’s attritional decider and they spurned two glorious chances minutes before Maguire’s winner. In the 115th minute, Cork ’keeper Mark McNulty did brilliantly to claw away Daryl Horgan’s goal-bound effort from the wing and two minutes later man-of-the-match Ronan Finn fired inches past the Cork post from a central position.
Despite the shocking climax to yesterday’s final, Kenny paid tribute to his players for their “monumental effort”: “I felt we had some decent chances in the first-half,” said a dejected Kenny.
“Bar the spell in the second-half - where Sean Gannon headed one off the line and Gary [Rogers] made some good saves - the rest of it, I thought we largely controlled and we looked the more likely to win it in extra-time. Even though we had such a gruelling trip on Thursday night, it was a monumental effort by the players. They pushed themselves to the absolute limit. But that’s the way it goes. You have to take the good with the bad.
“Cork are a good team and don’t concede many goals and obviously have an attacking threat. They got a long throw in injury-time of extra-time, so it’s a hard one to take for us. I thought we didn’t deserve to lose but we have to accept that.”
In a game of few chances, McNulty made a smart save to deny Dundalk striker David McMillan in the 40th minute while Gartland headed wide from Horgan’s corner moments later. Cork’s best spell of the game came after the break with Kevin O’Connor going close from a free-kick and Sean Gannon clearing off the line to deny Alan Bennett, while skipper Greg Bolger blazed over a good chance after a shrewd pass from Maguire.
Arguably Cork’s best chance came in the 83rd minute after substitute Chiedozie Ogbene couldn’t find a way past Rogers from eight yards. But Dundalk rallied and their substitute Ciaran Kilduff headed over in the 90th minute after a super cross from Horgan. The Cork defence, marshalled superbly by Bennett and Kenny Browne, kept Dundalk at bay for most of extra-time - and just when it seemed this final was heading for penalties, Maguire popped up to win the cup in the 121st minute.
Asked to describe the moment when Maguire’s shot spun into the Dundalk net, Caulfield smiled: “It was just a phenomenal feeling. It affects everyone. It affects your family.
“It was a game between two heavyweights, nothing between them… It obviously looked like penalties but both teams were going for the win and then Sean Maguire spins and gets a slight deflection and scores, so it was pleasant to see it going into the bottom corner.”
It may well be Maguire’s final act in a Cork jersey as his 29-goal haul is bound to attract cross-channel interest: “We’ve 12 players under contract for next year,” said Caulfield.
“Sean isn’t, but he knows that we want him. There will maybe an opportunity for him to go over to the UK, so we’ll decide over the next week. [But] he is very happy with us.”
Denied two doubles on the trot by their fiercest rivals, Dundalk can still qualify for the knock-out stages of the Europa League as they prepare for their home tie with AZ Alkmaar on Thursday, November 24. Before leaving the pressroom on Sunday night, Stephen Kenny sounded a defiant note.
“We brought a terrific crowd here today,” the Dundalk manager said.
“It just shows you how a club can grow and how a good football team can galvanise a community and galvanise a town and give it something to live for.”
Cork City: M McNulty, S Beattie, K O’Connor, A Bennett, K Browne, G Bolger (M O’Sullivan 96), G Morrisey (C Healy 100), G Buckley, K Sheppard (C Ogbene 78), S Dooley, S Maguire; Subs not used: M Connor (GK), G Holohan, M McSweeney, I Turner
Dundalk: G Rogers, S Gannon, D Massey, A Boyle, B Gartland, S O’Donnell, C Shields (J Mountney 55), R Finn, P McElheney (D Shiels 76), D Horgan, D McMillan (C Kilduff 79); Subs not used: G Sava (GK), P Barrett, C O’Connor, A Keane Referee: R Rogers