Chris Shields proved to be the man for the big occasion yet again as his sweetly struck volley secured Dundalk their place in the Setanta Cup final at the expense of holders Shamrock Rovers.
Holding a 2-1 lead from the first-leg, Stephen Kenny’s side got the all important goal just two minutes into the second-half of the second leg at Oriel Park when Shields connected with a Ruaidhri Higgins free-kick to set up a final showdown with Sligo Rovers.
The former Bray Wanderers star has a habit of making a name for himself on the big stage. One remembers the league game with Sligo Rovers at Oriel Park in September 2013 when his performance and goal helped the Lilywhites to an important win in the title run in.
Dundalk’s quest for silverware came up short last season and it was Shields’ controversial red card in the FAI Cup semi-final - and subsequent suspension for the crunch league game away to St Pat’s that followed - that played a significant part in Kenny’s men finishing the season empty handed.
However, the 23-year-old went some way to wiping out the painful memories of that semi-final dismissal with the only goal of a dour encounter to put Dundalk into their second Setanta Cup final in four years.
There was little to choose between the sides in a goalless first-half.
Rovers, needing to win by two clear goals to advance, started on the front foot and had a couple of sightings of goal without alarming Peter Cherrie.
It was Dundalk who had the better of the chances. Daryl Horgan let rip with a powerful effort that went wide of the mark after 10 minutes before Ruaidhri Higgins managed to jink his way past a couple of challenges on the edge of the box only to shoot straight at Craig Hyland.
The Rovers goalkeeper was called into action again in the 22nd minute. The lively Horgan nicked the ball away from Robert Cornwall just past halfway before playing Richie Towell in on the right of the penalty area. Towell’s shot was headed for the top corner but Hyland produced a fine stop to tip it over the crossbar.
Rovers enjoyed a spell of sustained pressure just past the half hour mark and Mark Rossiter had to make a vital intervention to stop the unmarked Eamon Zayed from getting on to a Karl Sheppard knock down.
The Hoops’ best effort of the half came four minutes before the break. Ronan Finn’s effort skidded off the unwitting Zayed’s head and looked to be heading into Peter Cherrie’s net but the Scottish goalkeeper threw himself to his right to turn it away for a corner.
The second-half was in its infancy when the Lilywhites took a firm grip of the tie. Ruaidhri Higgins’ deep free-kick to the back post was met by Shields and he held off the attentions of Robert Cornwall to guide an excellent finish past Hyland to leave Rovers with an uphill task.
It almost became mission impossible for Trevor Croly’s side nine minutes later. David McMillan set up John Mountney for a strike but his daisy cutter was brilliantly tipped wide by the Rovers netminder.
Karl Sheppard should have reduced the deficit but he blazed over with a glorious opportunity from close range in the 63rd minute after the ball had bounced dangerously around the Dundalk penalty area.
Croly emptied his bench, throwing on the likes of Ryan Brennan and Ciaran Kilduff, but a Robert Bayly header aside, they never really troubled Dundalk who will now meet the Bit o’Red in the final on May 10 when a new name will be inscribed on the All Ireland trophy.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Sean Gannon, Andy Boyle, Mark Rossiter, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Ruaidhri Higgins; John Mountney, Richie Towell (Stephen O’Donnell 88), Daryl Horgan (Darren Meenan 77); David McMillan (Patrick Hoban 70). Unused subs: Kurtis Byrne, Marc Griffin, Simon Kelly, Meenan, Gabriel Sava (GK). Booked: Cherrie (59), Meenan (78).
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; Robert Cornwall, Sean Heaney (Alan Kehoe 76), Conor Kenna, Luke Byrne; Ronan Finn (Ciaran Kilduff 76), Shane Robinson, Robert Bayly, Kieran Marty Waters (Ryan Brennan 69); Eamon Zayed, Karl Sheppard. Unused subs: Jason McGuinness, Daniel Purdy, Simon Madden, Barry Murphy (GK). Booked: Brennan (79).
Referee: Raymond Crangle.