Referee red calls enrage Dundalk
Drogheda reach third final of season as Lilywhites battle for hour with 9 men
ONE MAN stood out and dominated on the big stage of an FAI Cup semi-final. Sadly, it was for all the wrong reasons.
It's fair to say that referee Anthony Buttimer will not be getting the freedom of Dundalk town any time soon as three key decisions, all made in the space of less than five minutes and all controversial decisions, effectively denied Dundalk a place in the FAI Cup final and saw Drogheda United progress.
Drogheda are some team when it comes to cup games - their 1-0 win in yesterday's semi-final, won by a single goal from the penalty spot by Gavin Brennan was their 18th cup tie of the season and they have now qualified for the final of all three cup competitions.
And it's harsh to rain on Drogheda's parade and deflect from their success of reaching another final but the game would have been so different without Buttimer's intervention, when he sent off Drogheda players Darren Meenan and Chris Shields, also awarding United that penalty, midway through the first half, all three decisions causing deep anger in the Dundalk squad and their support in the 2,128 attendance in Hunky Dorys Park.
"That was the worst day I have had in football," said Dundalk midfielder Shields, one of the two men dismissed by Buttimer.
"The referee has killed the game. I know I shouldn't come out and criticise the officials, I know it's a tough job but he killed that game. Darren's tackle was his first of the game, it was maybe a yellow but if you look at the conditions – it was soaking wet – he went in to win the ball so maybe it was a yellow.
"For the second one, I thought I got the ball, if I didn't get the ball it was a penalty but it was never a red card, there were two men covering. But he just showed me the red card and that was me off, I may have lost the head but that's understandable, given that we had lost a Cup semi-final. You don't know what to do, all you can do is walk off the pitch and grit your teeth.
"When we were down to nine men we could have packed up and gone home but to be fair to the nine we had, they battled and were a credit to themselves, they battled to the end so fair play to Drogheda, they are in the final and good luck to them."
The game had been quiet and tame before it ignited in the 27th minute, when Meenan was shown a straight red card for what looked like an innocent challenge on Paul O'Conor. But four minutes later Buttimer brandished red again, dismissing Shields for his foul in the box on Declan O'Brien, and from the resulting penalty Brennan scored.
Forced to play for almost an hour with nine men, Dundalk to their credit kept their heads and their shape but legs began to tire in the last ten minutes as Drogheda upped their game. Declan O'Brien, Gavin Brennan and sub Peter Hynes all threatened to add another goal while Dundalk had their best chance from Tiarnan Mulvenna five minutes from time, but there was no way back for Dundalk.
So was there sympathy in the winning camp for the plight of their fellow Louth team? "You've sympathy from the point of view of having two players being sent off but that's not my decision," said Drogheda boss Mick Cooke, who maintains his stunning cup record with United even though the cup final will be his last game in charge as the club have confirmed that his contract will not be renewed.
"I've lost many a semi-final myself, you just wish all your best conquerors in the final. Stephen has had a fantastic season, to get to the semi-final of the cup and they've already qualified for Europe. We were in the same position last year. And we won it for ourselves. I'm not responsible for the decisions a referee makes."