Thursday 18 January 2018

Towell soaks up 'magical' double

Dundalk goalscorer Richie Towell celebrates with teammates Chris Shields (l) and Brian Gartland (r) after the final whistle of the FAI Cup Final
Dundalk goalscorer Richie Towell celebrates with teammates Chris Shields (l) and Brian Gartland (r) after the final whistle of the FAI Cup Final

Just a few short years after he found himself playing non-league football in Dublin after his exit from the SPL, Richie Towell crossed yet another one off his bucket list.

Scoring the winning goal in a Cup final in front of 25,000 fans to gift your club their first double in almost 30 years: one of those career-defining moments that a certain Danish beer company are so proud of.

The FAI Cup, and with it the double, headed back north to Dundalk last night, the people of Louth very glad to see the two trophies back in the border town side by side.

Yet this was a victory made up of a collection of jigsaw pieces from across Ireland: Galway lad Daryl Horgan provided the killer pass, Tallaght boy Towell finished to claim the goal, in a side managed by a fellow Dub (Stephen Kenny) for whom a Meath man in goal (Gary Rogers) has been a stalwart.

"It's something you probably dream of. If somebody had told me this was going to happen at the start of the year I would have bitten your hand off for it, to score the winner in the Cup final," said Towell after the game, the ex-Celtic man now afforded the time to make the next decision on his career as he's out of contract with the Oriel Park club.

"It's just a magical, magical night, a magical way to end an unbelievable season."

It's just a pity that the Cup final day was not so magical as far as the neutrals were concerned. The fact that the match went to extra-time after a scoreless 90 minutes was not a surprise - this was the fifth final in eight seasons to go to extra-time. But the poor quality of the football was a surprise and a let-down.

Dundalk have played with a real swagger this season, all season, while Cork City matched them for large parts of the league campaign and, with three ex-Ireland internationals in their side last night, have some real quality.

But the game was like the day itself in Dublin: cold, wet, blustery, windy and unpredictable.

Dundalk had started well enough but Cork grew into the game as the league champions found it hard to move into that top gear they usually find so easily.

Dundalk were able to up their game in the second half, though they had suffered the loss of key right back Seán Gannon in the first half due to injury.

But 90 minutes of normal time, and 16 minutes of extra time, saw the crowd over just over 25,000 - not a bad turn-out given the awful weather conditions which would have persuaded the neutrals to stay at home instead of heading to Ballsbridge for the day - could not separate the sides.

Legs were tired across the park, Dundalk suffering as they'd used all of their subs by the 77th minute, and penalties loomed large. But winger Daryl Horgan, so impressive this season but who was subdued for most of the game, found the energy to scamper down the left, and he couldn't believe his luck when Towell was unmarked in the box to fire home.

"I said to Horgs coming out for extra-time, 'Horgs, just give me one chance'. He was getting into great spaces and I just wanted one opportunity, and then I was confident I was going to put it away and the little man put it on me foot as usual, and I was lucky enough to hit the back of the net," Towell boasted.

Towell claimed that as his 29th goal of the season and joked later that he though that manager Kenny was "mad" when he set Towell a target of 30 goals for the season.

What was "mad" was the celebration that followed the goal, no way back for Cork now as they had to settle for the runner-up slot again, having finished second to Dundalk in the league.

Kenny is truly proud of the way his Dundalk side have played under his stewardship, and the purist in him may, in time, regret that they didn't put on that Big Show on the big stage.

"Our crossing wasn't as good as it could have been. But there were some tremendous displays. There are different ways to win a match," said Kenny.

"It wasn't scintillating but it was still good enough to win. And we are worthy winners."

The younger Dundalk fans who only knew of double success from their dads and grandads, enjoyed the party last night and today. There's a challenge ahead for the club, as key men like Towell, Horgan and Gannon are all out of contract.

"I'm at a great club at the moment which is striving to get better and better all the time on and off the pitch," said Horgan. "Who knows where we can go from there?"

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