Football/Soccer

Dundalk looking to put FAI Cup heartache behind them with Unite the Union cup clash

Daniel Kelly celebrates the equalizer against Linfield at Windsor Park in the Unite the Union Champions Cup. 
Diarmuid Pepper

Dundalk will hope to make home advantage count when they welcome Linfield in the second-leg of the inaugural Unite the Union Champions Cup tonight in Oriel Park.

The first-leg in Windsor Park on Friday night ended in a 1-1 draw and both teams have stated their intentions to get their hands on silverware after tonight's fixture.

The Unite the Union Champions Cup sees the league champions from both footballing associations on the island of Ireland battle it out over two-legs.

The rewards are rather handsome; the winners will pocket €50,000 and the runners-up will receive €25,000. There is also €25,000 available for community projects in the local area of the competing sides.

For Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers, the Unite the Union Champions Cup offers a welcome distraction after their treble dreams were denied by a penalty shoot-out defeat to Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup.

“With the disappointment of losing the FAI Cup final, it’s great to have another competition to look forward to,” the Lilywhites keeper told the Dundalk FC website.

“Usually you’d have a three-month gap at the end of the season where you’d have to stew over it before you get back in. It’s good to have a game and a training week, rather than thinking about it for a couple of weeks before going away.”

Rogers added: “Now at least we’ve another competition to play in and we’ve another opportunity on Monday to pick up some silverware and finish the season on a high.”

In the first-leg clash at Windsor Park on Friday night, Dundalk made seven changes to the side that lost to Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup.

And while Linfield boss David Healy insisted the first-leg tie wasn’t a priority for his men, he only made two changes to the team that beat Carrick Rangers in league action the weekend previous.

Speaking to the Linfield website after Friday night's first-leg tie, Healy was coy on the changes that he made to his starting line-up, commenting: “I said we would make numerous changes; we did, we made two.”

Healy said that he was pleased with his side’s efforts and that the draw gives Linfield every chance to go on and win the competition.

The Blues manager says he is anticipating a “ferocious atmosphere” for tonight’s second-leg in Oriel Park. However, he added: “I’m sure our players can thrive in that and hopefully come back up the road with the trophy.”

Reflecting on the first-leg, Healy said: “We tried to set up in a European format. In the European games, we let the opposition have a lot of possession and then hit them with pace and an aggressive counter attack. We tried to win the game and are disappointed to have not won. But with the quality Dundalk have, the result is more than acceptable.”

That European format got Linfield off to a flying start. With only eight minutes on the clock, Shayne Lavery made the breakthrough.

He latched on to a well-timed Jamie Mulgrew pass and rifled the ball into the bottom corner to give the Blues an early lead.

However, Lavery will not be available for tonight’s game as he is on international duty. Nor will Joel Cooper, who is recovering from an operation on his nose.

In the second half, Dundalk grew into the game and drew level on the 51st minute through Daniel Kelly. He found himself beyond the Linfield defensive line and calmly slotted the ball into the back of the Linfield goals.

Friday night’s draw sets the scene nicely for tonight’s second leg and goal-scorer Daniel Kelly said that his side will be up for the challenge.

Speaking to the Dundalk FC website, Kelly said that the Lilywhites enter tonight’s game full of confidence.

“It won’t be easy because Linfield are a good side, they have a lot of quality and they will be wanting to win as well. But we want to lift the trophy. Hopefully we can get the win and finish the season like we started and we will enjoy the break.”

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