DUNDALK Youths missed out on Ferrari Cup glory for the second year in succession as they crashed to a 4-3 defeat in extra-time at the hands of Athlone Town in the AUL Complex, Santry on Sunday last.
Alan Browne’s side will be wondering how they lost this game as it was very much there for the taking.
Played in difficult conditions, the Youths looked the more dangerous of the two sides but some sloppy defending saw their hopes dashed by the same opposition as last season.
It all started so well for the young Lilywhites. With Conor McDonald pulling the strings in the centre of the park, Browne’s side opened Athlone up on a number of occasions.
Athlone keeper Brian Redmond did well to snuff out a McDonald pass with Bob McKenna ready to pounce in the 6th minute and four minutes later the prolific striker blazed over after a good pull back from Kurt Murphy.
A wonderful move almost led to the opener in the 16th minute. Fed by another delightful McDonald pass, McKenna showed great tenacity to hold off Sean Guerins on the byline and cut the ball back for Daniel Hand to shoot. The striker’s effort looked goal bound but Redmond somehow got across his line to make a sensational stop.
Dundalk were not to be denied and six minutes later they were in front. McKenna was the creator and scorer, dispossessing and drawing a foul from Guerins in the box before finding the bottom right hand corner with his spot kick.
Athlone were given encouragement by some careless play in the Dundalk back four and keeper Johnny Connolly had to fling himself to his left to push away an Ian Sweeney snapshot on the half hour mark.
Shortly after, Dundalk should have doubled their lead. McDonald again cut the Athlone defence open with a great ball but McKenna saw his toe poke creep just wide of the upright.
The midlanders were level in first-half injury time when the referee awarded a harsh penalty against Aidan Sheehy and Athlone skipper Sweeney beat Connolly – just – from the spot.
Sweeney was instrumental in everything good that came from Athlone and he again drew a cracking save from Connolly in the 50th minute as the game became stretched.
At the other end Kevin Loughran miscued with a great opportunity to put the Lilywhites back in front and Dundalk were punished for their wastefulness when Stephen Conneely fired home with a free-kick from 20-yards in the 76th minute.
With the game approaching the 4th minute of stoppage time, Dundalk looked dead and buried until substitute Michael Gray held off an Athlone defender to knock the ball over Redmond’s head and guide it to the net to force extra-time.
Dundalk’s joy was short-lived as Sweeney sent another free-kick past the helpless Connolly to give Athlone a half-time lead in extra-time.
Dundalk, however, were not finished yet and McKenna restored parity for a third time when he forced the ball over the line from a tight angle in the 102nd minute of play.
However Athlone had the final say straight from the restart. A foul on Darren Donnelly some 25-yards from goal allowed Sweeney another pop at goal and once again he left Connolly with no chance to complete his hat-trick and send the cup back to Lissywoollen.
DUNDALK YOUTHS: Johnny Connolly, Ryan Duffy (Jude Carroll 107), Brian Bird, Jack Clancy (Mickey Gray 68), Aidan Sheehy, Seanie Crosbie (Seanie Crosbie 89), Kurt Murphy, Conor McDonald, Bob McKenna, Daniel Hand (Ben McLaughlin 60), Kevin Loughran. Unused subs: Rowan Quinn, Roy Kierans.
ATHLONE TOWN: Brian Redmond, Mark O’Connor, David Brooks, Sean Guerins, Ronan Morris, Val Feeny, Owen McCormack, Ian Sweeney, Jordan Conroy (Darren Donnolly 23), Warren Conroy, Stephen Conneely.