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Friday 23 February 2018

Spicy rivalry set to heat up final at Aviva

Cork and Dundalk ready for third FAI Cup decider in-a-row

Dundalk defender Dane Massey is hoping to end Cork City’s League and Cup double dream in Sunday’s FAI cup final at the Aviva Stadium
Dundalk defender Dane Massey is hoping to end Cork City’s League and Cup double dream in Sunday’s FAI cup final at the Aviva Stadium
Cork City goalkeeper Mark McNulty celebrates with the Cup after beating Dundalk in last year’s decider

There will be handshakes. Polite ones. After all, Michael D Higgins will be a few feet away and the players can't be impolite in the presence of an tUachtarán.

After that, battle will commence. And Sunday's FAI Cup final between Cork City and Dundalk will be anything but a question of manners.

There's more than a trophy at stake here. There's pride and honour, Cork determined to enjoy their status as top dogs having ended Dundalk's three-year reign as league champions. No one in the Cork camp spoke of their pleasure in "knocking them off their f****** perch" but that feeling is there, certainly enough f-words emanating from Cork keeper Mark McNulty.

Cup finals can throw up some strange pairings, teams like Dundalk getting relegated in the same season as winning the league, or Shelbourne making it to the 2011 final (with a young Andy Boyle in the side) as a First Division team.

But Cork-Dundalk has been the battle in the domestic game for the last four seasons. Four successive top-two finishes, three Cup finals in a row featuring the same teams, these sides producing Ireland internationals Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Sean Maguire.

Thankfully, trouble between the two sets of fans is non-existent, but it's been brewing up between the two squads.

Little things mean a lot when this pair collide, which is why Cork's triumph over Dundalk in last year's President's Cup final, City's first win over Dundalk in 10 meetings since Stephen Kenny's arrival, was so welcome.

Tension was there since this time last year, when Dundalk people were annoyed by Cork keeper Mark McNulty using the stage at a gig celebrating their FAI Cup final win over Dundalk to mock the club, and McNulty did it again last week, the keeper seen on camera singing "F** the Lilywhites".

Dundalk answered back, claiming the high moral ground, but the Cork camp were then angered when Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny publicly confirmed what has been known about privately for weeks, that Cork striker Karl Sheppard had agreed to sign for Dundalk.

Cork manager John Caulfield may have something to say, once Sunday's final is out of the way, about his player's transfer to a rival being discussed that way, and Caulfield and his players are probably sharpening their knives.

Rivalry in the LOI is nothing new. It doesn't even need a title race to make things spicy: 14 years ago there was real anger bubbling, about to explode, at the Derry City-Finn Harps relegation playoff when Harps supporters felt that the playing of 'Ba Ba Black Sheep' over the PA, at the end of the game, was a case of Derry taunting the country bumpkins.

The Bohs-Rovers games have never lacked tension: recall a battle in 2004 when Rovers fans, upset by striker Tony Grant's move to the Gypsies, threw a pig's head onto the pitch.

The pitch was also the focus in 2005 when some Bohs supporters broke into Tolka Park on the eve of their game with Shels to paint 'Judas' into the turf, to remind Glen Crowe that his transfer was not welcome. And the Shels-St Pat's battles of 'Marneygate', which involved court room appearances and docked points, were also nasty. But Cork-Dundalk is the most intense footballing tussle in a decade.

"It's a big rivalry now, we are the two top teams in the country, each league race and Cup final for the last three years has been between us. It's a good thing to have, two big clubs from two big towns going at each other," says Dundalk defender Dane Massey, not happy with McNulty's stage act.

"The personal side of it takes the rivalry to another level. I was surprised to see the video from Cork as Mark (McNulty) is a senior player there. When you win a league you still have to be humble and with the way he reacted, I am sure the rest of the lads are looking at it thinking 'what did you do that for?'.

"It happens and you just get on with it but it adds fuel to the fire.

"If we win it I don't think you will see Gary Rogers up on stage with a mic, we will be very humble as we always are, if we do win."

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