It was everything we had dreamed of during our nomadic years following the departure of Glenmalure Park. For years Hoops fans had to run the gauntlet and sneers of rival fans as Shamrock Rovers stumbled from one crisis to another as the Tallaght Stadium saga rolled on endlessly.
Here we were now in 2011, just over two years since the club finally made it to Tallaght. The league title had been won the year before, lack of sharpness from the penalty spot in the final cost us the FAI Cup to go along with it but the turnaround in fortunes at Shamrock Rovers in such a short period of time brought renewed confidence amongst the fans and pride in the club. The average 800-1200 souls attending home games at Tolka Park had been swelled four-fold and despite the harsh austerity imposed by a Fine Gael-Labour government in an attempt to get a very damaged economy back to life following the financial crisis, it was boom times at Shamrock Rovers.
The Setanta Cup was the latest in a list of all-island competitions involving clubs from the Irish League and the League of Ireland. Linfield were the first winners in 2005 but the concept wasn’t quite going the way it had been envisaged as the following four finals were won by clubs south of the border, Drogheda (twice), Cork City and Bohemians. In 2011 it was to be the turn of Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk to contest the 6th final.
Dundalk beat Linfield, Glentoran and Cliftonville on the way to the final. The Hoops set out on the road on 14th March with a 3-0 win away to Lisburn Distillery in the first leg of the quarter-final having received a bye in the first round as League of Ireland Champions. They overcame the Lisburn side over two legs by 7-2 on aggregate. They then disposed of Sligo Rovers 4-1 on aggregate in the semi-final thus gaining some measure of revenge for the FAI Cup final defeat in 2010.
Now Michael O’Neill’s team had the opportunity to put their name onto a new trophy. Dundalk hadn’t exactly enjoyed a good time in their meetings with the Hoops up to that point of the season having lost out when the teams met in the first round of the Leinster Senior Cup and with a defeat and a draw in the two league games played between the sides up to that point.
While the number of fans Dundalk have brought with them to each of the last four FAI Cup finals at the Aviva Stadium has been impressive it certainly seemed that back in 2011 the Lily White fans weren’t that confident of beating the Hoops in the Setanta Cup final. They had been allocated the West Stand and Rovers the East Stand and although a small area in the West Stand had been allocated for Hoops fans there were still lots of empty spaces in the Dundalk section. In the time leading up to the final, the border club had made an attempt to keep Rovers fans out of the West Stand claiming they expected to sell it out themselves.
The following is the match report from the Sunday Independent of 15th May:
“A new name was added to the list of Setanta Cup winners last night, when Shamrock Rovers came out on top after an intriguing final at Tallaght Stadium before a sellout crowd of 6,000.
The breakthrough goal came after 65 minutes when a mistake by rookie defender Michael Hector gave Ronan Finn the chance to cross the ball into the Dundalk box for Gary O’Neill to blast to the roof of the net from 10 yards.
The best chances in the first half came from free-kicks, with Dundalk’s Mark Quigley bringing the best out of Alan Mannus on the half-hour, and Rovers’ Billy Dennehy smashing his placed kick against the post with Peter Cherrie well beaten.
In the hectic minutes just before the break, each side had chances, but a superb saving tackle by Colin Hawkins denied Rovers’ midfielder Finn after O’Neill had got the better of Hector, and then Dundalk winger Daniel Kearns was clean through but shot well wide of the target from outside the box.
Finn had a great chance to break the deadlock five minutes into the second half when the ball broke to him inside the Dundalk box, but Cherrie spread himself well to save and the ball rebounded off Finn over the line.
Dundalk, who had lost midfielder Stephen McDonnell after nine minutes when he made a saving tackle on Finn, suffered a further blow in the 57th minute when experienced striker Jason Byrne had to come off with a hamstring injury. Manager Ian Foster reshuffled his pack, replacing him with midfielder Keith Ward.
In the 64th minute, Rovers brought on leading scorer Gary Twigg, and in practically their next attack they broke the deadlock with O’Neill’s goal.
Dundalk tried hard to get back on terms playing a neat passing game, with wingers Ross Gaynor and Kearns prominent, but they missed their leading scorer and target man Byrne.
At the other end, Dennehy hit the crossbar from wide on the left but shot wide when presented with an easier chance inside the penalty area.
In the 86th minute, a good ball from Pat Sullivan gave Twigg the chance to wrap the game up, but while his shot beat Cherrie, it came back off the post. Rovers finally got the second goal their dominance deserved when, in the third minute of injury-time, Dennehy’s shot from 20 yards hit the inside of the post and rolled over the line.”
*The Hoops captured the trophy again in 2013 after a rather one-sided affair with Drogheda United at Tallaght Stadium. Prior to that, the club had been successful in All-Ireland competitions such as the Inter-City Cup, which they won a record four times during the 1940s, the Blaxnit Cup in 1968 and the Tyler Cup in 1978.