Ten-man Dundalk produced one of the performances of the season to knock Shamrock Rovers out of the Sports Direct Men’s FAI Cup at a raucous Oriel Park on Sunday.
Hayden Muller’s first-ever goal at senior level set the Lilywhites on their way, and they showed incredible desire and guts to see it through after Paul Doyle was dismissed for a second bookable offence after 31 minutes.
Despite playing against FCB Magpies less than 72 hours earlier, Stephen O’Donnell’s men started on the front foot and Johannes Yli-Kokko curled one agonisingly past Alan Mannus’s post early on after some good hustling in the middle of the park by Ryan O’Kane and Paul Doyle turned the ball over.
Rovers should have taken the lead in the 18th minute when Johnny Kenny, an early replacement for the injured Rory Gaffney, ran onto a Graham Burke flick and lifted the ball over Nathan Shepperd. The striker’s effort bounced off the bar and back into his path but he somehow headed the rebound over the top.
Dundalk punished Rovers for the miss just five minutes later. Robbie McCourt’s forceful run and shot forced Mannus into a save and when the visitors failed to clear O’Kane’s corner, Muller was in the right place to drill the ball low and hard past the Rovers ‘keeper.
The pendulum looked to have swung Rovers’ way just past the half-hour mark when Doyle, who was booked in the 15th minute, was shown a second yellow card by referee Robert Harvey for pulling Aaron Greene back to leave Dundalk to play the final 60-plus minutes with 10 men.
The hosts got to the break with their lead intact and Shepperd made a fine stop to deny Kenny just seconds after the restart and Darragh Leahy produced an unbelievable block to head Graham Burke’s follow-up off the line.
Dundalk’s Welsh goalkeeper produced an even better save in the 55th minute when he somehow got a hand on Lee Grace’s header after Sean Hoare’s initial effort came back off the woodwork.
Roared on by the home support, Dundalk stood firm with captain Andy Boyle a colossus at the back, and they frustrated the reigning league champions who looked to have run out of ideas as the game entered the dying stages.
Seven additional minutes were somehow added on at the end but Dundalk never looked like conceding and O’Donnell’s men deservedly saw it out to book their place in the draw for the Last 16.
DUNDALK FC: Nathan Shepperd; Hayden Muller, Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy; Archie Davies, Johannes Yli-Kokko (Connor Malley 85), Alfie Lewis (Greg Sloggett 64), Paul Doyle, Robbie McCourt (Darren Brownlie 85); Ryan O’Kane (Cameron Elliott 85), John Martin (Daniel Kelly 72). Subs not used: Anthony Moyo, Mayowa Animasahun, Peter Cherrie (GK), Mark Byrne (GK).
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Alan Mannus; Daniel Cleary, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace; Sean Hoare (Liam Burt 66), Dylan Watts, Graham Burke, Gary O’Neill (Najemedine Razi 80), Sean Kavanagh (Richie Towell 80); Rory Gaffney (Johnny Kenny 5), Aaron Greene. Subs not used: Leon Pohls (GK), Ronan Finn, Markus Poom, Kieran Cruise, Conan Noonan.
REFEREE: Rob Harvey. ATTENDANCE: 2,686.