While claiming the three-points on offer in Ballybofey last Friday night was the primary aim for Stephen Kenny, the 2-0 win was the perfect way to mark the crystal jubilee of Dundalk’s 2002 FAI Cup success.
It’s 15 years since David Crawley lifted the cup at a sun-bathed Tolka Park following the Lilywhites’ 2-1 success over a Bohemians outfit led by the current Dundalk manager.
Having been billed as massive underdogs by just about everyone apart from themselves, Garry Haylock’s double saw the Oriel men come from a goal behind to claim the club’s first cup title in 14 years.
The victory over the Gypsies turned what was a disappointing season, which had seen the Lilywhites concede their Premier Division status despite a fantastic late run, into probably one of the club’s most memorable in recent history.
Captain of Martin Murray’s men was local lad Crawley, a cult hero in the town long before his infamous ‘Get in there ya lad ya’ exploits in Alkmaar last September. Despite going on to achieve more consistent success on the national stage with Shelbourne, he cherishes those cup final memories more than any other.
“Without doubt, that was the most special day in my footballing career,” Crawley told the Dundalk Democrat.
“Being a local lad who was lucky enough to captain a team with so many local lads on it made it so special.
“I had grown up following Dundalk and going up to games with my mother and I can remember Dundalk coming up over Hill Street Bridge with the cup as a young fella, so to actually go and lift the cup for Dundalk that day was very special.
“The feeling of coming over Hill Street Bridge and seeing the crowds for myself was amazing. I was looking at pictures the other day on Facebook and people started texting me about actually raising the cup and for me, I see the likes of John Whyte and David Hoey every so often and being locals made it so special for us.
“I think if you ask anybody about cup finals in Dundalk, they’ll always go back to 2002,” added the Quay man.
It’s a buzz that Crawley feels to this very day, despite all that he has won since. That feeling of captaining Dundalk was the stuff of dreams for both him and his family.
“I had people with me that day that meant so much to me. In the stand, I had my partner and my mother and for me, someone who went up to Oriel Park as a child, I took great satisfaction from that and I got a lot from being able to captain Dundalk.
“I still have kids coming up to me and saying ‘you captained Dundalk’. That’s because the buzz is around the town.
“To me, if you’re any good growing up your first aim should be to play with Dundalk especially the way they’re going now. That would be my take on it and the way I was brought up. It was always Dundalk for me.
“And looking back and doing the commentary on the games, I would give anything to be back playing now and be involved with the club.”
The FAI Cup victory came on the back of a disappointing period which saw the Lilywhites relegated from the Premier Division although, having embarked on a stirring end of season run which saw them narrowly avoid safety, Crawley always reckoned they had a chance against Bohs.
“I think we finished that season quite strongly. If you look at it, it was the first time that three teams actually went down in the league and we were 15/16 points clear of the second last team which was very, very unfair.
“We went into the cup final unbeaten in 12 games, although we were still known as the underdogs.
“But sometimes the underdog wins,” Crawley quipped.
“That tag actually made us determined to do it as well. We had an inkling that if we went up there and got stuck into them and worked hard we could do it. Unfortunately, we went down that year but I still have great memories.
“I didn’t fully realise how big it was though until I finished football a few years back. It was magical stuff.”
LMFM’s Gerry Malone also looks back on 2002 with fond memories with the local commentator believing the week beforehand to be one of the most memorable in the club’s history.
“It was probably one of the most amazing weeks in the history of Dundalk FC,” he said.
“I recall Dundalk suffering both the lows and the highs that week because the previous Sunday the team were relegated to the First Division, but the build-up to the cup final was still absolutely phenomenal.
“It was basically an all local team and in their end of season games they had played some of the best football I’ve seen from a Dundalk team.
“They had knocked out Shamrock Rovers in the semi-final with a superb performance. That, along with the fact that most of the players were local was perhaps how the supporters were able to identify with the team so much.
“The number of people who travelled on trains and buses to the final was fantastic.
“I think there was a gate of around 8,000 people crammed into Tolka Park and in the region of 6-6,500 were supporting Dundalk.”
Malone also tells a tale about just how confident the Dubliners were of seeing off the Lilywhites.
“Bohemians were absolutely sure they were going to win. The story goes of the banner that was flying from St. Peter’s Church in Phibsborough that morning which read ‘Bohemians FC, 2002 FAI Cup winners’.
“They were so confident but Dundalk, even though they had been relegated, were determined to win and it was that sheer determination from everyone involved that got the team across the line.
“Martin Murray had the team playing a great style of football and it’s something that people maybe forget. Martin won the First Division the year before and the following season he won the FAI Cup.
“Unfortunately, he was relegated as well, which was an awful pity because it condemned Dundalk to eight years of First Division football.”
In the actual game, Dundalk battled back from a goal down with Haylock netting twice and Malone feels they more than matched the Gypsies despite having to soak up waves of pressure late on.
“It was a very balanced game and make no mistake about it, Bohs didn’t look more skilful on the day. No way could you say that Dundalk were outplayed.
“In fact, Dundalk dominated the early periods and the Bohs goal came against the run of play, although it could have been two but for very good defensive work.
“Then just before half-time Garry Haylock got the equaliser and that was a sort of a killer blow to Bohs in one sense because instead of going in at half-time in a positive mode they were going in with a lot of negativity.
“And shortly after half-time, Garry struck again for another goal but the pressure that Dundalk had to sustain for the final 25 minutes was huge. They had to ride their luck at times but they showed phenomenal strength, conditioning or whatever you want to call it to hold out.
“They had a purpose in mind and they wanted to prove their critics wrong and by god they did,” added Malone, whose father Jim held such a significant affiliation with Carrick Road club.
Another who fondly reminisces about that sunny Spring day 15 years ago is lifelong Lilywhite supporter Gerry Lennon and he recalls the atmosphere inside Tolka Park as being very special.
“There was a great atmosphere because a lot had travelled. It was an easy one to travel to and, although Tolka wouldn’t have had the best facilities, the venue saw a lot of Dundalk supporters go up to the game,” Lennon remembers.
“There was just that air of hope before kick-off, rather than expectation and we were there to have a day in the sun quite literally.”
Although Dundalk accounted for Shamrock Rovers comprehensively in the semi-final, it took them replay wins over Galway and Finn Harps either side of a narrow victory over Kilkenny City to progress in the competition that year.
And it was that sort of ‘luck’ which had the supporters sensing that a victory was on the cards ahead of the FAI showpiece.
“Sometimes, when you scrape through cup games you can get a vibe and think ‘maybe this could be our year’.
“I thought that with Haylock having come in that there was one big game in us. There were definitely good players in that team and things just hadn’t gone well over the league season.
“There was an element of ‘listen we have been relegated but let’s just go for this and have one good shot at it’. And obviously that was the players’ attitude as well. Lucky enough, it worked,” he added.
And despite jeering Kenny that day, Lennon, like so many other Dundalk followers, has grown to rather enjoy the product provided by the man at the helm of the Lilywhites at present.
“I think all is forgiven now, although I wonder has he forgiven us,” chuckled Lennon.
“At the time we would have been a bit jealous at the success Stephen had brought to other clubs, and Bohs at the time, and in hindsight, would we have ever thought he could have come here and done so much with us?
“He was a young, high-flying manager at that stage who was moving forward while we were going in the opposite direction but as the old cliché goes, ‘that’s football’ and things change.
“I’d say we’ll call it even stevens. We broke his heart that day, but I think we have brought him a lot of joy since.”
The teams from that day:
DUNDALK: John Connolly; John Whyte, Stephen McGuinness, Donal Broughan, David Crawley; David Hoey, John Flanagan, Ciaran Kavanagh, Chris Lawless (Cormac McArdle 72); Martin Reilly, Garry Haylock (Cormac Malone 87).
BOHEMIANS: Wayne Russell; Tony O'Connor, Colin Hawkins, Stephen Caffrey, Simon Webb; Fergal Harkin (Paul Byrne 79), Kevin Hunt, David Morrison (Dave Hill 72), Mark Rutherford; Trevor Molloy (Gary O'Neill 86), Glen Crowe.