David Wilson reports from Athlone Town Stadium
A tale of two towns, David and Goliath – this could have been perhaps the most clichéd cup semi-final ever to take place.
A blistering first-half performance from Dundalk saw the Lilywhites put six goals beyond the First Division part-timers in a showing of complete dominance.
Five more followed in the second half on a night Dundalk made history by recording the biggest-ever winning margin in an FAI Cup game.
Michael Duffy and David McMillan scored braces while Andy Boyle, John Mountney, Patrick McEleney, Chris Shields, Nathan Oduwa, Jordan Flores and Sean Murray were also on target.
Athlone have had some famous nights in their 133-year history, famously defeating Vålerenga in 1975 UEFA Cup, before drawing at home 0-0 with AC Milan. This was not to be one of those nights.
It just took three minutes for the away side to take the lead. McEleney dropped deep to the quarter-back position and dropped a dime over the top to Duffy, who ran the post route, controlling neatly and slotting low beyond Patrick Martyn.
Dundalk arrived on the Shannon off the back of a poor home defeat to Rapid Wien and looked a determined side straight from the off.
Athlone had not played for four weeks since defeating Shelbourne 4-1 and it really showed, as they were lethargic and looked like a team beginning a pre-season.
Just six minutes after the first, Dundalk doubled their lead. Again, McEleney dropped deep and Duffy made his run from right to left in between the defenders.
He tried to control on his chest but only managed to flick it inadvertently over Martyn who was caught stranded in no man’s land.
The prize on offer was a final meeting against current cup holders Shamrock Rovers and just four minutes later Dundalk could already begin to think about it.
A whipped Duffy corner found an unmarked Boyle at the back stick and he headed across goal to make it three.
Athlone last won the cup in 1924, defeating Cork outfit Fordsons in the final 1-0 in Dalymount Park – their only ever cup final appearance.
2020 was not going to be the year they would end their 96-year wait for another final appearance.
Just before the half-hour mark, the effervescent McEleney played one-two with Duffy, before crossing to the far post where another Dundalk stalwart, Mountney, headed in to make it four.
The Bohola man has yet to be on the losing side for Dundalk when he has scored, and this was not going to the night where history changed.
In fairness to Athlone, they responded as well as they could. Mark Birrane and Adam Lennon both tried to test Gary Rogers, but it was to no avail.
In the 34th minute Duffy struck the butt of the post with a free kick, demonstrating the quality the Derryman possesses.
The fifth came two minutes later as Chris Shields pounced on some loose build-up play and squared the ball to McEleney.
The playmaker made no mistake, adding his name to the scoresheet finishing low into the bottom corner.
The Lilywhites were looking to secure a sixth cup final appearance in a row and had their sixth goal six minutes before halftime.
McEleney, at the heart of everything once again, dinked one over the Athlone back four to Duffy who volleyed across goal.
Martyn could only parry to David McMillan and the frontman poked the ball home from point blank range.
Half time saw the introduction of Oduwa and Flores in place of Greg Sloggett and Duffy to protect them as Dundalk continue with a barrage of fixtures.
Just ten minutes into the second period, Irish under-21 international Darragh Leahy cut inside and found Shields in space.
The sitting midfielder opened his body up and bent it beautifully into the top corner from 25 yards out to put Dundalk seven goals to the good.
Dundalk were relentless and, a minute after getting their seventh, Leahy crossed for McMillan who acrobatically headed on to the crossbar.
Right on the hour mark, a corner from Mountney was headed by McMillan and saved by Martyn, but substitute Oduwa was on hand to tap home from two yards. 8-0.
Daniel Kelly and Murray were introduced, which demonstrated the gulf in quality between the two sides.
Kelly nearly immediately made an impact, surging down the right but placed his effort wide as the goal gaped.
McEleney then played Oduwa down the left, and the Nigerian under-23 international squared it for McMillan, who made no mistake with a side-footed finish to make it nine.
Oduwa is the type of player fans pay money to watch. His dazzling dribbling continued to cause problems down the left, beating defenders at will, and he played a major role in the tenth goal.
McEleney picked up another loose ball after a mazy Oduwa run and laid it off to Flores, and the Puskas nominee whipped it beautifully into the top corner to make it double figures.
McMillan once again hit the bar as he continued in search of his hat-trick. The eleventh came with just seven minutes left and it was the ninth different scorer as Murray rifled home after McEleney and Leahy combined once more.
Athlone finished second bottom in the first division, only finishing above Wexford on goal difference, and the gulf in class showed as Dundalk wrapped up another cup final appearance.
Dundalk will now make another visit to the Aviva next Sunday to take on Shamrock Rovers as the Lilywhites look for their 12th cup victory.
Athlone Town: Patrick Martyn; David Brookes, Scott Delaney (C), Ciaran Grogan, Evan White (Shane Nealon 33); Jack Reynolds, Mark Birrane, Israel Kimazo (Lee Duffy h/t), Adam Lennon; Ronan Manning, Dean George
Subs not used: Evan O’Connor (gk), Jordan Carroll, John Morgan, Bradley Okaidja, Ross O’Brien.
Booked: David Brookes (34), Scott Delaney (47), Ciaran Grogan (63), Dean George (88).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; John Mountney, Brian Gartland, Daniel Cleary (Sean Hoare 20), Andy Boyle (Daniel Kelly 58), Darragh Leahy; Gregg Sloggett (Jordan Flores h/t), Chris Shields (C) (Sean Murray 58), Patrick McEleney; Michael Duffy (Nathan Oduwa h/t), David McMillan
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (gk), Sean Gannon.
Booked: Sean Murray (70).
Referee: Rob Hennessey.
Extratime.com Player of the Match: Patrick McEleney (Dundalk).