DUNDALK ended a 24 year wait for a tenth Provincial Towns Cup as they heaped more misery on Tullamore on Sunday in Edenderry.
In 2009 and 2010, Dundalk were left wondering what could have been as the Offaly side dumped them out at the semi-final stages of the competition, only to lose to eventual winners Boyne.
But having overcome Boyne in the semi-final this year, Tullamore could not end their run of losing finals as a John Dodd inspired Dundalk showed them that experience does not count for everything.
Dundalk’s win sparked wild celebrations in the small Edenderry venue, but after 24 years of waiting, that was to be expected.
After weathering an early storm after Tullamore went 10-0 ahead after just six minutes, Dundalk, galvanised by team spirit and belief, took the game to the favourites and managed to turn things around.
When they got their chances, they took them, leading at crucial stages, but in the end, the scorelines does not reflect how tight this game really was as a late and stunning try and conversion by Dodd put the gloss on a tremendous victory for Ene Fa’atau’s side.
Dundalk, with the last kick of the first half, managed to lead 11-10 as Dodd’s penalty gave them the advantage but they would fall behind again before Stephen McGee broke Tullamore’s strangehold on the game when he planted a try on 70 minutes. From there, the last ten minutes was supposed to be about holding on, but Dundalk had other things on their mind as they wanted to kill off Tullamore, something they did in emphatic fashion as a whirlwind ten minutes of play saw them land another two tries and conversions to put 15 points between the sides at the final whistle.
For Tullamore coach Andy Melville, he did not get the departing gift of a Towns Cup medal, but for Ene Fa’atau and his side, it was the culmination of years of hard work and commitment, something that was tested in the first ten minutes as Dundalk were rocked by an opening onslaught.
Adrian Hanley was first to test Dundalk’s resolve, only to find no joy as he got to within five metres short of the line but just two minutes in, Tullamore had unlocked Dundalk’s back-line.
Cyril Cornally made the opening with a powerful run and the ball was recycled again going through the hands of Richie Hughes and Aaron Deverell before it came to second-row Dave Hanlon who charged over the line carrying two Dundalk players with him to touch down for the try. It was converted by Mark Whelan.
Before Dundalk could regain their composure, Tullamore went further ahead as Whelan knocked over a penalty.
Just as Dundalk were starting to find their feet, they gave away another penalty for hands in the ruck, but this time Whelan sent the ball wide of the posts when he really should have scored.
It was a left off for Dundalk and they took full advantage as Dodd claimed his first score of the day with a penalty to get Dundalk off the mark on 26 minutes.
Tullamore had a chance to cancel out that score but Whelan again missed a very kickable score down the other end after Chris Scully lost possession of the ball, resulting in a Tullamore penalty.
Whelan would live to regret those misses as Dundalk, spurred on by the possession they were now gaining, worked in their first try on 36 minutes.
Working the ball from the scrum, Stephen McGee got the ball across to Johnny Williams who in turn found the capable hands of Dodd, who crashed over the line, but he could not capitalise further and missed the conversion.
Dundalk looked good for another try minutes later as McGee found himself in scoring range, but a high powerful challenge by Mick Brazil put an end to that.
Making amends for his conversion miss, Dodd gave Dundalk the lead with a penalty, which was the last kick of the first half, giving Dundalk a 11-10 lead. Two minutes after the restart and it was out half Dodd who kicked a drop goal comfortably over the posts.
Up against it
However, that lead was soon relinquished as a strong, determined Tullamore size quickly wrestled control away from Dundalk’s back line.
Twice they kicked penalties into the corner rather than taking kicks at goal and their gamble paid off when Ivor Scully crashed over under the posts after expertly picking the ball from the ground after his centre partner Aaron Deverell had been stopped just short.
Substitute Johnny Moloney, who replaced Whelan, converted to put Tullamore back in front at 17-14.
But rather than give Tullamore momentum, it seemed to cripple them and stifle their attacking flair as it was Dundalk instead who turned on the style. With nothing to lose, they gave it everything for the last half hour.
Moloney missed a penalty and minutes later, Dundalk made them pay when a kick from Dodd was not cleared. Keith Scully touched down to give Dundalk a five metre scrum. As the travelling Dundalk fans willed their team on, they soon had something to roar about as McGee caught a spinning pass to touch down for Dundalk’s second try. Dodd converted to put Dundalk clear, 21-17.
The Offaly side did put pressure on Dundalk, hitting a penalty to bring the margin down to a point with three minutes to go, but rather than try to hang on, Dundalk stuck to their guns, playing attractive football and again, they made Tullamore pay.
A superb sweeping move from right to left resulted in Chris Scully looping the ball over his own head. It made it’s way into the arms of Stephen Murphy, who fended off the challenge of two men to plant another try. Dodd converted and Dundalk looked to have one hand on the trophy.
It was soon theirs as Dodd intercepted a misplaced pass in the 85th minute.
Taking two looks behind him as he sprinted down the pitch unchallenged, he knew it was over. He leapt high and into the air before crashing down as he was wildly cheered by the travelling masses. The conversion, which he popped over was a formality as the whistle blew to end 24 years of anguish for the Mill Road club.
Scorers - Dundalk: John Dodd (Penalties x 2; Conversions x 3; Drop Goal, Tries x 2); Stephen McGee (Try); Stephen Murphy (Try).
Tullamore: Ivor Scully (Try); Dave Hanlon (Try); Mark Whelan (Penalty; Conversion); John Moloney (Penalty; Conversion)
Dundalk: Kenny Dorian, Cillian McDonald, Ronan Donnelly; David Fearon, Brendan Cunningham; Paul Meegan, Mark Roundtree, Ene Fa’atau; Johnny Williams, John Dodd; Darren Guest, MJ McKevitt, Chris Scully, Stephen Murphy, Steven McGee. Replacements Used: Stephen Soraghan for Ronan Donnelly (55mins), Gareth Lynch for Darren Guest (55mins), Kevin Fearon for Brendan Cunningham (74mins), Brendan Cunningham for Ene Fa’atau (82mins)
Tullamore: Ger Molloy, Cathal Feighery, Alvin Bracken; Dave Hanlon, Ivor Deverell; Cyril Cornally, David Milne, Adrian Hanley; Richie Hughes, Aaron Deverell; Mark Whelan, Ivor Scully, Keith Scally, Colin Hughes, Mick Brazil. Replacements Used: Kevin Browne for Cyril Cornally (34mins), John Moloney for Mark Whelan (39mins), Donal Milne for Dave Hanlon (55mins), Cyril Cornally for Kevin Browne (60mins), Philip Gardiner for Ivor Scully (66mins), Dave Hanlon for Donal Milne (75mins).
Referee: Paul Haycock