Fergal Sheekey’s penalty shootout heroics helped Dundalk to lift the Leinster Youth Cup as he saved three spot kicks in succession against Cherry Orchard to give the young Lilywhites the victory.
Having overcome some of the cream of the crop in terms of Irish underage football on the way to the final including Belvedere, St Joseph’s, Shamrock Rovers and St Kevin’s, Dundalk were once more handed the underdogs tag going into the final against the esteemed Cherry Orchard.
But to a man, the Oriel Park youngsters matched them for 110 minutes and more.
It had been over 30 years since the club had tasted success in this competition with Alan Browne and his team bringing to an end the long wait for underage success.
Naming an unchanged side from the one which bested St Kevin’s in the semi-final the previous week, Dundalk started brightly with Vlad Evseev shrugging off injury concerns by dipping a volley at goal inside the opening five minutes which was saved.
Two minutes later, the large travelling contingent exhaled as one with relief when Darragh Markey sent a back post header inches over the top.
Both sides had shown in previous rounds that they were more than capable of hitting the back of the net but this game proved just how good both were defensively.
Frank Osadebe and Calvin Murphy in the full-back positions enjoyed outstanding games as attacking outlets as well as at the back while Paul Finnegan and Conor McCoy, as they did in the semi-final, dealt with everything that was thrown at them with immense assurance.
Captain McCoy would go on to claim the Man of the Match award to go with his winner’s medal at the end of an exhausting afternoon.
Pauric McGowan tried his luck for Dundalk with a free kick that he whipped over the wall but over the crossbar too and Dundalk’s central trio of Evseev, James Renaghan and Anto Reilly all began to have a large impact.
Their continued dictation of play meant that their side forced the Dublin men further on to the backfoot with Dylan O’Hanlon next to try his luck for Dundalk with a powerful left-footed effort on the spin that Doyle diverted around the post and he then reacted quickly to smother a Reilly lob away from danger midway through the half.
Alastair Harvey’s men were not without chances of their own, Derek Daly’s dangerous cross finding an unmarked Troy Carey lurking on the penalty spot but his shot was too central.
Carey would have one more effort before half time when he went alone at the Dundalk rearguard before dinking an effort at the far post that crept just off target.
Ten minutes into the second half, Murphy plucked a Finnegan diagonal out of the air first time to race inside two defenders but fired his volley into the side-netting as Dundalk began as they meant to go on.
Reilly’s 25-yard volley had Doyle scrambling to his right to save, Doherty blasted one of his own off target and Shane Whelan was a tad fortunate not to divert the Luton-born winger’s cross past his own goalkeeper.
As the 90 minutes drew closer, Sheekey gave a taster of what was to come from him by twice tipping Carey shots from goal and Osadebe drilled one narrowly wide for Dundalk at the other end.
Twenty minutes of extra time again failed to separate two talented teams, Thomas Ilunga shaving the post for Cherry Orchard with a low effort while O’Hanlon almost secured the trophy at the death by curling one milimetres over the top.
Penalties would determine the destiny of the trophy and with Sheekey on their side, the Town had every reason to be confident.
Last summer at the Gothia Cup in Sweden, the ‘keeper kept out 10 spot kicks across five shootouts with Seatown U16s while earlier this season, he saved twice in a Ferrari Cup shootout against Malahide United.
Josh Collins and McGowan tucked away their penalties with minimal fuss as the first two to step forward.
Then Sheekey dived left twice and then right to deny Whelan, Markey and Craig Hanlon in succession.
In that time, only Evseev had missed from the spot for Dundalk with Finnegan firing his low spot kick to the net.
That left the Lilywhites one successful kick away - Reilly delivered it with a calm dispatch past Doyle, and pandemonium ensued.
DUNDALK YOUTHS: Fergal Sheekey; Frank Osadebe, Paul Finnegan, Conor McCoy, Calvin Murphy; Vlad Evseev, James Renaghan (Aaron Boyle Cassidy 84); Craig Doherty, Anto Reilly, Pauric McGowan; Dylan O’Hanlon. Unused subs: Ferghal McDonald, Cormac Boyle, Robbie Macken, Sean Matthews, Liam Keenan, Conor Callan (GK).
CHERRY ORCHARD: Lee Doyle; Josh Collins, Craig Hanlon, Shane Whelan, Sean Gilbert; Troy Carey, Darragh Markey, Maxi Kougum, Darragh McConville, Derek Daly (Thomas Ilunga HT); Gareth Coughlan. Unused subs: Andy O’Reilly, Sean Tunney, Conor Kane, David Craddock (GK).
REFEREE: Luke Corr.