Rovers rule in Bit o' a classic!
IRISH blood and English heart won the day for Sligo Rovers as they lifted the FAI Cup final for the third time in four seasons, beating Drogheda United 3-2 in one of the most dramatic cup finals in recent seasons.
Drogheda and Sligo traded blows and goals over a thrilling evening at Lansdowne Road, but the crucial moment and the killer strike came deep into injury time – four minutes into the added nine minutes – from Anthony Elding.
This Rovers side is a mish-mash of accents, Irish boys from places like Meath, Galway and Dublin, an African slant from Joseph Ndo, but the most important effort in this five-goal thriller was made in England.
Kieran Djilali (London) and Danny North (Grimsby) worked well to set up Lincoln lad Anthony Elding, whose strike proved to be the winner for Sligo.
This truly was Roy of the Rovers stuff for North. In what could be his last game for the club, he came off the bench to score two goals and set up the winner.
"I only played for the last 20 minutes, so I had a little smile on my face when I heard over the PA that I had won man of the match," beamed North after the game, the striker facing into a period of uncertainty as he is now out of contract.
"I was gutted not to start the game, but I knew I would get on at some point and I never thought I'd make the impact that I did. You have to be in the right frame of mind to do what you can when you come on and thankfully I was.
"I hoped to get one chance, so to put two away was tremendous. For the first goal, I remember the ball coming across and I just acted on instinct, I put it in the only place I could.
"For the second one I had a word with Joe (Ndo), that move worked for us earlier in the season when we scored against Limerick, he flicked it up for me, I didn't get the sweetest strike but it was nice to see it go in."
"That was the icing on the cake after a difficult year," added former Pats man North, who missed the first half of the season as he was recovering from a knee injury.
The 93rd FAI Cup final put something of a smile back on the face of Irish football with an enthralling final. It also sums up so much about the current state of the domestic game that most of those involved in yesterday's drama now enter a period of great uncertainty.
Both managers are out of contract and Drogheda boss Mick Cooke is certain to leave after a falling-out with the club's board, though he is close to finding new employment and could be installed as manager of Derry City or Cork City by the end of the week.
All of the Drogheda squad are out of contract and many will be on the move.
Sligo's future is also uncertain with only a handful of players signed up for 2014.
Those who took part in a day which began on a positive note – with a charity bike ride in aid of Drogheda player Gary O'Neill and his battle with cancer – can feel proud.
Drogheda certainly felt proud early on as the outsiders upset the odds to take the lead, United going in front on 13 minutes when Paul O'Conor got on the end of a move involving David Cassidy and Shane Grimes to score the lead goal. Sligo had started sluggishly and struggled to get into gear, though they did have an Elding goal disallowed for offside on 37 minutes, but Drogheda were on top and in control.
But then the game changed with a switch on 70 minutes. Raff Cretaro looked unhappy when he was replaced by North with 20 minutes to go, but the former Pats man was the key participant in subsequent events.
On 78 minutes, North finished well to level, on hand after an Ndo corner kick was flicked on by Elding.
And, in the 85th minute, North fired Sligo into a 2-1 lead, claiming a sweet finish after Ndo lobbed a free kick over the wall.
Drogheda complained about the manner of the goal, insisting referee Paul Tuite had not blown for the free to be taken. In the aftermath, Drogheda were down to 10 men, captain Derek Prendergast sent off for his protests, though both teams finished a man short as Gavin Peers suffered an injury and was stretchered off at a time when Sligo had already made three substitutions.
Sligo thought they had done enough, but there was more fight in a brave Drogheda and, two minutes into added time, Ryan Brennan sprinted free and slid a shot past Gary Rogers to level the scores at 2-2.
Extra time loomed but, four minutes into injury time, North came good again to set up the winner. Djilali sprinted down the right, his cross was chested down by North into the path of Elding, who nicked the winner.
"It's something I have dreamt about and, to do it in that manner, in front of our own supporters was first class, you couldn't have written that script," said Elding.
"It has been a great season, for me personally and for the team. We wanted to win the league, but to come away with some silverware from the biggest cup competition in Irish football is fantastic. It's a team effort, but fair play to Danny North, he kept his head down and kept focused and got two great goals and then set me up for the third.
"He's a striker and he could have gone for goal himself for his hat-trick but he set me up and that shows what a fantastic team spirit we have," added Elding.
"It's a great feeling and I will treasure that for the rest of my life.
"The season is over now and no one knows what the future holds. The club haven't spoken to me yet, they have signed up other players and I thought I would have been signed up by now, but that's football."