Macdara Ferris reports from Richmond Park
There is to be no record seventh successive FAI Cup final for Dundalk as St. Patrick’s Athletic made it back to the final for the first time since they last lifted the cup in 2014 after a pulsating FAI Cup semi-final in Richmond Park.
The Saints went toe-to-toe with the FAI Cup holders and deservedly came out on top by the scoreline of 3-1 thanks to goals from Billy King and Matty Smith either side of Pat Hoban’s late first half strike, with Darragh Burns rounding off a superb game with the Saints’ third late on.
We have waited so long for a return to full crowds in the League of Ireland and thankfully it wasn’t a disappointment for those in attendance in a packed Inchicore venue as they got to watch a cracker of an FAI Cup semi-final although Dundalk supporters won’t have enjoyed the result.
Kick off was slightly delayed as smoke and flares were cleared from the pitch and once things got going it was all fully committed end to end stuff in the opening half.
The sides exchanged goals with unforced errors helping to cough up those chances that were both clinically taken by first Billy King on 26 minutes for Pat’s before Dundalk equalised through Patrick Hoban four minutes from the break.
Inside the opening 30 seconds Will Patching had stung Vitezslav Jaros' gloves with a shot after he picked up the ball at the edge of the area off Michael Duffy. Pat’s had their moments in the opening exchanges and Dundalk conceded a couple of dangerous free kicks that Burns put into the box only for the Lilywhites to stand tall and clear.
On a couple of occasions Smith’s shots were only stopped thanks to brave blocks by first Daniel Cleary and then the Dundalk captain Andy Boyle.
King broke the deadlock on 26 minutes as he made the most of an unforced error from Greg Sloggett who couldn’t control a throw in.
King ran onto the ball and his low driven effort from the edge of the area beat Peter Cherrie with the ‘keeper looking a bit slow to get down to try and save.
Moments later the Athletic almost doubled their lead as their skipper ran onto King’s pass but Ian Bermingham’s shot just whizzed wide of the frame of the goal.
Just before the break James Abankwah tried to take the ball down on his chest but he allowed the ball to run free and Will Patching played Hoban in and he made no mistake to equalise.
Abankwah, who had picked up a first half yellow card in the 44th minute, was replaced by Jak Hickman at half time.
Smith got the Saints’ second just before the hour mark and what a goal it was. Burns picked up Sam Stanton’s loose touch in midfield and his pass beat Cleary allowing Smith to shoot and he arrowed a sweet strike into the top corner of the net to send the Saints supporters into ecstasy.
Patching went close late on forcing Jaros into a fine fingertip save but his team couldn’t find the goal that would have given us a replay in Dundalk on Monday.
The result was secured four minutes from time when substitute Ronan Coughlan set up Burns to get in on goal and he dinked the ball over the advancing Cherrie for the final goal of quite the cup tie.
The result means the teams get to do it all again on Monday night but in the league and the Lilywhites will have to pick themselves up after this defeat as they still have work to do if they are to cement their place in the top flight for 2022.
Their cup elimination has ruled out their only realistic route to Europe which is a remarkable state of affairs for a squad so full of quality.
The Saints supporters streamed onto the Richmond Park pitch in celebration at the final whistle and it is those fans who are now looking forward to travelling across town and down Lansdowne Road to the Aviva Stadium on cup final day next month.
Awating them will be their cross Dublin rivals Bohemians.
St. Patrick's Athletic: Vitezslav Jaros; Lee Desmond, Paddy Barrett, James Abankwah (Jak Hickman 46) Ian Bermingham (c); Darragh Burns (Shane Griffin 87), Jamie Lennon (Robbie Benson 64), Alfie Lewis; Billy King (Rónán Coughlan 78), Matty Smith, Chris Forrester (Jason McClelland 79).
Subs not used: Barry Murphy, Josh Keeley, Kyrian Nwoko, Nahum Melvin-Lambert.
Booked: James Abankwah (44), Jamie Lennon (50), Paddy Barrett (67).
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Cameron Dummigan (Raivis Jurkovskis 78), Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle (c), Darragh Leahy (Sami Ben Amar 86); Will Patching, Greg Sloggett (Daniel Kelly 72), Sam Stanton; Sean Murray (David McMillan 78), Patrick Hoban,Michael Duffy.
Subs not used: Alessio Abibi, Sonni Nattestad, Mayowa Animasahun, Ryan O'Kane, Han Jeongwoo.
Booked: Sam Stanton (87).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
extratime.com Player of the Match: Darragh Burns (St. Patrick’s Athletic).