If you are a football fan in Ireland, the one day of the year you do not want to miss is FAI Cup Final Day.
It is a day when no matter who you support, you put on a warm coat and hat and head to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The atmosphere in and around the ground can be something very special. The teams involved bring their own supporters and you also have a mixture of supporters from the other clubs in the Airtricity League.
This season competing in the two Cup Finals for both women and men where Shelbourne and Wexford Youths in the FAI Continental Tyres Women's Cup Final and Dundalk and Cork City in the men's FAI Daily Mail Cup Final. The men's Cup Final would see the top two in the Airtricity League clashing which on paper promised a cracker. It was also a day where we saw a repeat of last years finals when all four clubs battled it out as well, now that was something you do not come across very often. Over twenty five thousand fans turned up to watch what were two excellent matches. It all kicked off just after midday and wrapped up just before seven in the evening. Over six hours of totally absorbing football from four great clubs. Let me below unravel what went on, so you can get a feel of what a great day it was.
First up was the clash in the FAI Women's Cup Final, Shelbourne against Wexford Youths who got the party started. It is not very often the FAI get things correct but the decision to play both Cup Final,s on the same day in the same stadium was a great boost for the Women,s game. It puts it on a par with the Men,s senior final on a day that is all about the fans. On the day there was only going to be one winner as Shelbourne ripped their opponents apart and ran out five nil winners. It was a day Shelbourne,s Leanne Kiernan will never forget as she bagged a hat trick. To score a hat trick is a great achievement but to do it in your senior cup final is something special. Her performance helped her win woman of the match and with three goals no one would disagree. I myself would like to give a special mention to the Shelbourne goalkeeper Amanda McQuillan who in my opinion made two world class saves to keep Wexford out. The two vital saves came when her side were one nil up and then again when they had added a second, if either of those two efforts by Wexford had gone in, the story could have been so different. It was sweet revenge for Shelbourne, who lost last season's final against Wexford but on the day this year they were just to strong.
By the time the Men's Cup Final was ready to kick off there was a smashing crowd inside the ground and the atmosphere was superb. Dundalk and Cork City took to the field having finished first and second in that order in the league. It was to be a game where both sides had the same amount of chances and either side could have won. Both sides got stuck into each other right from the start and referee Rob Rogers had to use all his experience to keep a tight grip on the game. Once the players realised the referee was not going to be messed about we had a great game. The two heavyweights of the league put on a great battle and the game was extremely tight. A couple of good saves by both keepers kept the game at nil all and the game went the distance and into extra time.
It was in the final minute of extra time that Cork scored to win the cup, but it looked for so long that the game would go to penalties as both sets of players were on their knees. The goal came from a long throw in from Steven Beattie that fell to Sean Maguire who hit a shot that deflected off a Dundalk defender and spun into the net at an agonising slow pace. From my seat in the press box I could clearly see the ball was heading wide before it took the deflection. It was a cruel way for Dundalk to lose out on a possible double double, but these things happen so often in football. For Cork it was revenge for last years final when they lost against Dundalk.
It was a tremendous day to finish off what has been a superb season of football and everyone already is looking forward to next season. Dundalk have two more huge games left in the Europa League and they will have to pick themselves up after this result. Next up is AZ Alkmaar and if they can produce the goods in that game this loss will not feel so painful. Congrats to Cork who are closing in on Dundalk and with this victory it will give them so much encouragement for next season.