A decade ago Shamrock Rovers last came to the Aviva Stadium looking for a double only to lose on penalties to Sligo Rovers. They travel to Lansdowne Road on Sunday seeking a double and looking to equal the historic 1925 Rovers team who won the league and cup without losing a game.
That was the season when the club won the first of their 25 FAI Cups and across the three domestic competitions that year they won 24 games and drew 7 in winning the treble. Stephen Bradley’s 2020 side are looking to make it 19 wins and 3 draws to claim the double in the Aviva on Sunday.
They have gone unbeaten in domestic action in this shortened COVID-19 impacted year and now have the prize of unbeaten double winning season in their sights.
“We know what we can achieve in terms of the unbeaten double and just doing a double but we’ve got to focus on the performance,” said Stephen Bradley speaking to his club’s media team ahead of the game against Dundalk.
“The fans can’t be there to see it. That’s the real downside but it’s still a cup final and still a big occasion. I think it’s a chance to go and lift a trophy for the fans who haven’t been able to be in the grounds this year.
“It’s a chance to go and give them their little reward and thanks for being there with us behind the scenes and everything they’ve done for the club in these tough times. So it’s a chance for us to go and repay them.
“Cup finals are always fantastic to be involved in and play in so we’re really looking forward to it.”
The Hoops have beaten Dundalk twice this year – 3-2 at home prior to the Coronavirus break and a comprehensive 4-0 win in Oriel Park as the Lilywhites were focussing on their European campaign.
After winning the cup on penalties against the Lilywhites in last years’ final and using that as a springboard to league success in 2020 – overcoming an 11 points deficit last year to a 22 point surplus over Dundalk this season – they won’t want to end the season on the sour note by having to hand back the FAI Cup crown that took 32 years for them to win.
The last time Rovers lost a domestic game was when the Lilywhites were the opponents – that was a 3-2 home win for Dundalk in September 2019.
The Lilywhites came into the season looking to make it three league titles in a row but having trailed Shamrock Rovers by three points when the season was suspended, they became a club in turmoil when football returned.
Vinny Perth was replaced by Filippo Giovagnoli as head coach and the club won just three league games from the remaining 13 league games.
However, Giovagnoli steered the club back into the Europa League group stages and if they can win their 12th FAI Cup it won’t be a bad return for Dundalk who at times have seemed to be a club in disarray.
The Lilywhite players showed hunger and desire in last week’s semi-final in their record breaking 11-0 win over an Athlone Town side who were put to the sword in ruthless fashion by Dundalk.
The Louthmen followed that up though with their fifth loss in five Europa League group games on Thursday away to Molde with Joran Flores scoring quite the consolation goal late on in the 3-1 defeat.
“I thought I played alright considering the result,” he said speaking to Dundalkfc.com. “Ninety minutes is what I needed so I’ve put myself in contention for Sunday but we’ve got a big squad, especially in midfield, so we’ll see.”
Flores was a sub in last year’s shootout defeat to Rovers in the FAI Cup Final and so is hoping his goal will help him into the starting XI.
Having missed last year’s final due to suspension, having Chris Shields back is a big boost for Dundalk as it having Patrick McEleney available after he missed the 2019 final due to injury.
“They stopped us winning the treble last year, which would have been a big achievement so that’s another big incentive for us to do well against them on Sunday.
“We’re going in there and the only thing that’s on our mind is winning. Rovers won the league this year but we want to take the cup and ensure we finish with some silverware.”
Flores’ wonder goal against the Hoops in Tallaght back in February has earned him a nomination for the FIFA Puskas Award but he know which prize he wants to pick up most.
“One hundred per cent, I would definitely prefer to win the FAI Cup than the Puskas – but it’d be nice to win both!”
Referee: Robert Harvey
This is the 100th FAI Cup Final. Shamrock Rovers played in the very first one back in 1922 and also in one of the two cup finals held in 2002. The Hoops and Bohemians are the only two clubs to play in all 100 editions of the FAI Cup. Including this year’s final, the Hoops have played in 35 of the 100 finals with Dundalk making 20 final appearances.
Dundalk have equalled Shamrock Rovers’ record from the 1960s of qualifying for six consecutive FAI Cup Final. The Hoops won all those finals whereas Dundalk have won two of the last five that they have played in beating Cork City in the 2014 and 2018 finals.
This is the first season since 2014 that the cup final isn’t being played out between the top two sides in the Premier Division.
Shamrock Rovers 11/10; Draw 9/4; Dundalk 23/10.
2-0 to Shamrock Rovers
Injured: Rory Gaffney, Gary O’Neill
Suspended: Stephen Bradley
Injured: Pat Hoban
Doubtful: Daniel Kelly