Dundalk’s FAI Cup defence began with a gruelling first-round tie at the Markets Field in Limerick on Sunday afternoon as Treaty United pushed the holders all the way before finally succumbing to a Patrick McEleney goal in the first period of extra time.
Vinny Perth’s side dominated for large periods of the game but they were left frustrated by the performance of the first division side’s goalkeeper, Tadhg Ryan, who made a host of good saves to take the first-ever meeting of the clubs to extra time.
However, Ryan – and Treaty’s – stiff resistance was finally broken with 104 minutes played when McEleney, who came off the bench in the second half, saw his low shot creep into the net with the aid of a deflection to book Dundalk’s place in Tuesday’s second-round draw and keep our hopes of a seventh successive FAI Cup final appearance alive.
Perth made four changes to the team that drew with Levadia Tallinn less than 72 hours earlier with Cameron Dummigan, Sean Murray, Greg Sloggett and Han Jeongwoo all restored to the starting XI.
The South Korean winger went closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half when he flashed a thunderous left-footed half-volley at the Treaty goal in the 13th minute but Ryan stuck out a strong hand to turn it around the post. Prior to that, the first chance of the afternoon fell to Darragh Leahy when he met Sean Murray’s free from the right but the full-back couldn’t keep his header down.
Tommy Barrett’s side showed plenty of energy in the sweltering conditions and their best opening of the half came in the 22nd minute when Joel Coustrain cut in nicely from the right but Alessio Abibi was equal to the task, smartly tipping the curling effort around the post.
The sides went in scoreless at the interval and with the temperature showing no signs of abating, Perth made his first change 14 minutes into the second half, bringing on Will Patching and McEleney for Sam Stanton and Sean Murray respectively.
Dundalk upped the tempo after that and a big chance came and went in the 63rd minute when Daniel Kelly forced his way past a couple of Treaty players on the right but he couldn’t pick out Han, who found himself in oceans of space in the six-yard box.
The cup holders created two more openings in quick succession after that. First up, McEleney was denied by a good Ryan stop before the Derryman then picked out the unmarked David McMillan but the striker’s header didn’t have enough power to bother the keeper.
The Treaty netminder drew another warm round of applause from the home support shortly after when he clawed Daniel Kelly’s difficult cross over the top. From the corner that followed, Patching picked out McEleney but his first-time effort went wide of the post.
Dundalk continued to pen the hosts back and Andy Boyle guided a volley past the far post before Ryan made two more neat saves before the death, denying McMillan, who showed great technique to meet a Patching corner, before throwing himself to his right to save Patching’s goalbound free-kick.
Despite finding themselves on the back foot for most of the second half, Treaty, who were willed on by the home crowd, stuck to their task and William Armshaw gave them encouragement when he let fly with a 25-yard drive that cleared Abibi’s crossbar before Neil Doyle brought the 90 minutes to a close shortly after.
After huffing and puffing, Dundalk finally blew the Treaty house down when McEleney’s shot squirmed into the net but the tie was still far from over and it took a magnificent last-ditch block by Darragh Leahy to deny Treaty’s Alan Murphy an equaliser on the stroke of half time in the extra time.
With Andy Boyle leading by example, Dundalk held the battling hosts at bay and Treaty played the final eight minutes with 10 men after Anto O’Donnell was shown a straight red card for hacking Han down.
TREATY UNITED: Tadhg Ryan; Ed McCarthy, Anthony O’Donnell, Mark Walsh, Marc Ludden; Clyde O’Connell (Joe Collins 75), Jack Lynch (Callum McNamara 75); Stephen Christopher (William Armshaw 68), Sean McSweeney (Alan Murphy 90), Joel Coustrain (Matt Keane 40); Kieran Hanlon (Matt McKevitt 68). Subs not used: Adam Gallagher (GK), Conor Melody.
DUNDALK FC: Alessio Abibi; Raivis Jurkovskis (Sonni Nattestad 96), Cameron Dummigan (Wilfried Zahibo 110), Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy; Sam Stanton (Patrick McEleney 59), Greg Sloggett; Daniel Kelly (Val Adedokun 74), Sean Murray (Will Patching 59), Han Jeongwoo; David McMillan. Subs not used: Peter Cherrie (GK), Ryan O’Kane, Mark Hanratty.
REFEREE: Neil Doyle.