Stuart Connolly reports from Finn Park
Shamrock Rovers progressed to the semi-finals of the extra.ie FAI Cup in dramatic fashion after trailing 2-0 at half-time. Three penalties in five minutes, one of which was missed, and a goal from Graham Burke saw Harps’ cup hopes dashed.
Barry McNamee and Stephen Folan had put Harps in a commanding position going into the break only for a crazy five minutes to render their hardwork irrelevant. Aaron McEneff missed one and scored two spot-kicks to bring Rovers level before Graham Burke completed the comeback from close range on 71 minutes.
Shamrock Rovers went into the tie chasing consecutive FAI Cup crowns, while also searching for a League and Cup double which they last achieved back in 1986/87.
Harps meanwhile have not reached the final of the cup since 1999 and have only lifted the silverware once, back in 1974.
Ollie Horgan made three changes to the side which triumphed over Waterford FC on the final day of the league season to keep their Premier Division status with Sam Todd, Mark Coyle and Karl O’Sullivan playing from the off.
Only two changes for Rovers with Stephen Bradley opting for Daniel Lafferty and Ronan Finn ahead of Rhys Marshall and Sean Kavanagh who dropped to the bench.
The Hoops enjoyed their fair share of the possession in the early stages but their only effort on goal fell to Liam Scales, who headed into the gloves of Mark McGinley from a Jack Byrne cross.
Harps grew into the game and with only 15 minutes gone, they took a shock lead.
Adam Foley bore down on goal, only tasked with getting the better of Joey O’Brien. He did just that and squared the ball in from the left for Barry McNamee who rolled it past the oncoming Alan Mannus.
Rovers almost hit back instantly following their restart with Lafferty headed a cross from Byrne but it went agonisingly wide.
Five minutes later and Harps had doubled their lead and were good value for it. Ryan Connolly stood over a free kick on the left side and aimed it for the far post as Stephen Folan hit a looping header beyond the reach of Mannus and captain Finn on the line.
The hosts went close to a third goal as the game went beyond the half hour, Foley with the header but Mannus was equal to it.
Rovers pushed for a way back as the half drew to a close but a late free kick routine was cut short due to an offside flag as Harps went into the interval with a big advantage.
What followed after the break can only be described as a unique string of events as Rovers were given three, yes three penalties in five minutes.
The first was awarded after Sam Todd was penalised for a shove on Scales. Aaron McEneff stepped up but saw his spot kick saved by McGinley.
That wasn’t to be the end of the story though as the ball back into the box from Finn was adjuded to have struck the arm of Mark Russell. Referee Mark Hennessy pointed to the spot again after consulting with his linesman. McEneff stepped up once more and converted into the bottom right corner.
The dust had not yet settled as Graham Burke was brought down under a challenge from McGinley and the ref once more awarded a spotkick. McEneff once again stepped up and dispatched in the same place as his penalty only moments ago – to get his fifth goal of the season.
Shamrock Rovers were on top after their quickfire double and they went in front with a little under 20 minutes to go. After McGinley had made a good initial save to deny Byrne, the rebound fell kindly for Burke who slotted home for his tenth goal of 2020.
The hosts were in a state of disbelief and slight anger after surrendering their lead as Ollie Horgan introduced a number substitutes to try and force extra-time.
Harps had calls for a penalty or two of their own as the game approached its dramatic conclusion but the ref was unmoved after the ball appeared the strike the arm of Finn.
McEneff nearly had a hat-trick in stoppage time as he attempted to catch McGinley off his line but the midfielders’ effort from halfway was narrowly over.
Shamrock Rovers progressed to the semi-final where they will meet the winners of Sligo Rovers v Derry City.
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; David Webster, Sam Todd, Stephan Folan, Mark Russell (Raff Cretaro 75); Mark Coyle (Leo Donnellan 61), Gareth Harkin(Ruairi Harkin 61), Ryan Connolly, Barry McNamee; Karl O’Sullivan (Tony McNamee 87), Adam Foley (Alex Kogler 75).
Subs not used: Patrick McGarvey, Stephen Doherty.
Booked: Mark McGinley(54)
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Lee Grace (Roberto Lopes h/t), Liam Scales; Daniel Lafferty (Sean Kavanagh h/t), Ronan Finn, Aaron McEneff, Dylan Watts; Graham Burke (Rhys Marshall 79), Jack Byrne, Aaron Greene (Thomas Oluwa 87).
Subs not used: Leon Pohls, Darragh Nugent, Dean Williams.
Booked: Joey O’Brien(41), Thomas Oluwa(88).
Referee: Rob Hennessey
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Aaron McEneff (Shamrock Rovers)
A massive thanks to our fans, sponsors and volunteers for their support of the club this season.— Finn Harps FC (@FinnHarpsFC) November 20, 2020
We are making leaps and bounds on and off the pitch, recording our best league finish in 20 years.
We're really on our way.
We're really here to stay.
Up the Harps #UTH #WeAreOne pic.twitter.com/59oljTboYx