Sunday 26 January 2020

New heroes for Hoops

Cup final win will see this Rovers crop of 2019 become club legends - Burke

History-maker: Gary O'Neill celebrates scoring the winning penalty against Dundalk
History-maker: Gary O'Neill celebrates scoring the winning penalty against Dundalk

It stood for longer than the Berlin Wall but the cloud which hung over Shamrock Rovers for three decades, and more, was finally lifted.

It may seem strange that this very Dublin club won the FAI Cup in Dublin but thanks to some very heavy input from the provinces, a penalty scored in normal time by a man from Derry, a save in the penalty shoot-out from a Belfast boy and then the winning kick in that shoot-out stroked home by a son of Kerry.

What it all means is that for the first time since 1987, Shamrock Rovers are the FAI Cup holders, but for those fans who have suffered through those decades, who went through the Charlton years and two recessions without seeing the FAI Cup come their way, have a new group of heroes.


"I know what sort of fans Rovers supporters are, they demand success all the time.

"I have been here when we weren't doing so well, seeing the bad points, the fans shouting and all of that," says Graham Burke, one of the local heroes for Rovers yesterday, a man from the north-inner city who made the trip over the Liffey to D4 and had a Cup winner's medal to take back to the northside last night.

"The gaffer always said that you'll never be remembered if you don't win anything. It's all very good playing nice football, people saying you were a great team but if you don't win something they won't remember you.

"They will remember us now. It's been 32 years since the club won the Cup, who knows how long it will be when they win it again, but to be part of this is great.

"I said to Aaron Mac (McEneff) when he was taking the peno, he could become a legend. If we'd won 1-0, they'd always remember who scored the goal that won a Cup final."

The final was filled with frustration for Rovers for long spells, as had their most recent appearances in the final, defeats on penalties in the first final at Lansdowne Road after the venue reopened in 2010, losses to Derry City (2002) and Galway United (1991).

For much of the game yesterday, Rovers were in control, appearing to me more on their game, despite their lack of experience on the Cup final stage, than their opponents, who have made Cup final day an annual outing for the previous four seasons.

And yet Rovers were unable to make their chances, or possession, count for much. When Ronan Finn was in sight of goal and in a position to score, but unable to do so, it seemed as if that would set the tone for the day.

The closing stages of normal time would be the most testing spell for them, that whirlwind moment when Rovers took the lead and saw it taken away in a matter of minutes when Duffy equalised.

Young heads can drop, young minds can wander at times like that so when the game did go to extra-time, it fell to Joey O'Brien to give his team-mates a message.

"I just said to the lads, 'listen lads, we're sick,' that's how I said it to them," says O'Brien.

"There was no point hiding it from them, saying 'don't worry, blah, blah, blah'. It was a big blow for all us so I just said, 'look, it's in the system, we have to play our way back into it."

And play they did. It needed spot-kicks to separate them but midfielder O'Neill had the honour of scoring the crucial one, the Tralee lad a rare Kerry native with no grá for GAA.

"The first Kerryman to win the FAI Cup, so that is obviously a special accolade for myself. It's something I'm very proud of," he says. "To be the group of players to bring silverware back is so special."

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