This weekend we will witness the conclusion of another Irish domestic football season.
Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk will go head to head in the Extra.ie FAI Cup final this Sunday. Which happens to be a repeat of the 2019 final.
The delayed game is just another knock-on effect of a season impacted by Covid-19.
The 2020 final will be the 11th time the occasion is contested in the Aviva Stadium, giving us a decade of cup final memories in the process.
Like many yearly cup finals, we have seen a mixed bag when it comes to the matches on offer. For the most part we have been lucky and have been treated to entertaining games when it comes to the annual final of this historic cup competition. Saying that, it’s also natural for a cup final to be a tight and cagey affair.
Today I want to check out the positive aspects of this discussion.
Everyone’s definition of an entertaining game may vary as entertainment is subjective. So, for this list variety was taking into consideration.
I have been thoroughly entertained by some of the FAI Cup finals in the Aviva Stadium and want to look at some of the best.
While everyone won’t agree, the reasoning behind each selection will be explained.
Of course, with these opinion pieces we will leave the floor open to other views. Let us know what you think is the best final to be played in the Aviva in the comment section below.
Now with that out of the way. Here are my picks for the best FAI Cup final games to take place in the Aviva Stadium.
5. Sligo Rovers vs Shamrock Rovers (2010)
This one just scrapped into the top five I must admit.
Looking back at it, the game before it went to penalties was extremely boring. It was your typical type of final that both sides set up cautiously and just cancelled each other out.
This was somewhat surprising as Shamrock Rovers scored 16 goals on route to the 2010 final. Sligo also had the best goal difference in the league table that season.
The nervy edge to the game resulted in a 0-0 stalemate after extra time. With the only real noteworthy incident coming in extra time when Stephen Bradley was sent off for Shamrock Rovers.
However, this day belonged to one man out for redemption, Sligo goalkeeper, Ciaran Kelly.
Many Sligo fans pointed at Kelly for been at fault for costing them the cup final the year before against Sporting Fingal.
Nothing would deny Kelly his plaudits on this night. He managed to save all four of Shamrock Rovers penalties.
Handing Sligo, the cup in front of a still record FAI Cup final crowd in the first cup final at the Aviva Stadium.
4. Dundalk vs Cork City (2017)
One of the Dundalk and Cork finals had to end up on the list. After all they do take up almost half of the games up for consideration. The two sides met in the final four years in a row from 2015 until 2018.
It’s their 2017 meeting that makes it on here.
The 2015 and 2016 finals were scarily similar. Richie Towell scored in extra time to give Dundalk the cup in 2016. The following year it would be Cork that would win the cup in extra time, with a goal from Sean Maguire.
In 2017, Like the previous two finals, both equally matched each other out in the 90 minutes.
The breakthrough final came five minutes into extra time. Dundalk defender Niclas Vemmelund headed home to give Dundalk the lead with 25 minutes to go.
Achille Campion would bring things level in the second half of extra time and take it to a shootout.
These big moments call for big players. It was Cork City’s Kieran Sadlier that stepped up to slot away the winning penalty. Giving Cork City their first league and cup double in the club’s history.
A tense final but in all the right ways by the league’s elite two at the time.
3. Dundalk vs Shamrock Rovers (2019)
We had a Dundalk side chasing the domestic treble and a Rovers side looking for their first FAI Cup in 32 years.
It was a game with a lot riding on it and it showed in the tentative nature of the match.
Plenty of the second half and extra time wasn’t the most exciting to watch as a neutral, but the quality of the pitch really shined through.
Rovers surprised many with the way they took the game to Dundalk.
Jack Byrne really showed his worth on the night. Some of the diverse passing by him on the display was a pleasure to watch. Feeding the likes of Graham Burke, Aaron Greene and Ronan Finn who just couldn’t get their finishing on point.
The real drama was saved for the dying minutes, like all good cup finals.
Aaron Greene was taking down by Dundalk keeper Gary Rodgers to give Rovers a penalty with a minute left in normal time.
Aaron McEneff calmly buried it, likely giving Rovers the cup.
Just to make them really work for it, Dundalk grabbed a late equaliser. Michael Duffy came up with a stunning half volley to send the game into extra time and ultimately penalties.
In a cruel twist of fate Duffy along with Dan Cleary missed their penalties, resulting in a historic Shamrock Rovers victory.
2. Derry City vs St. Patricks Athletic (2012)
As a St. Pats fan this one really stings to include.
Obviously, I wanted to add in the 2014 final including these two teams with Pats coming out on top after 53 years of FAI Cup pain. That will always be my personal favourite, but in hindsight it wasn’t the most fan friendly game to watch, due to a very defensive minded Derry side on the day.
Putting bias to one side, this was technically the better match out of the two. That really feels wrong to even say.
Pats opened the scoring early into the second half with a lovely Sean O’Connor free kick.
This was quickly stamped out by a Derry equaliser a couple of minutes later. Harking back to the 2006 final between both sides, when Pats failed three times to hold on to their lead.
Rory Patterson gave Derry the lead with a penalty. The Candystripes seemed to be hanging on, that was until three minutes before time.
The ever-reliable Christy Fagan snatched a goal for Pats to send the game into extra time.
Once again, it wasn’t meant to be for the Saints on this night.
Goalkeeper Brendan Clarke had a howler in extra time to let Patterson in once again. The Derry striker bagged himself the winning goal and the cup for his side.
Weirdly foreshadowing the defensive error for Derry two years later that allowed Christy Fagan to grab the winner in 2014.
The crowd size wasn’t great but for the 17,000+ in attendance, we were sent on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
1. Sligo Rovers vs Drogheda United (2013)
It was just a day full of dramatic cup final wins.
In the FAI Women’s Cup Final before this game Raheny United beat Castlebar Celtic in equally exciting fashion.
Unlike many on our list, this game got off to a frantic start. Paul O’Connor gave Drogheda the lead in the opening 15 minutes. This remained all the way until the 78th minute.
Sligo introduced Danny North into the game, and he spun it on its head, along with giving us the most mental last five minutes of cup final football you may ever see.
North made it 1-1 to pull things level with just over ten minutes to go.
Madness quickly ensued.
Drogs defender Derek Prendergast gave away a free kick outside his box and rightfully received a booking. From the resulting free kick, the ball was chipped over the wall as they were setting up, it fell to North who hammered home to make it 2-1 Sligo.
Drogheda were furious that the free could be taken before the whistle blew. The players quickly surrounded the referee and Prendergast was shown a second yellow for his protest. 2-1 Sligo with five minutes to go and the opposition down to ten men. They had one hand on the trophy.
That controversial goal would be nullified deep into added time.
Ryan Brennan buried a one on one chance past Gary Rodgers. The Drogheda man surely thought he gave his side the lifeline of extra time.
That wasn’t to be, the influence of Danny North was felt once again.
In the literal dying seconds North chested the ball down to his strike partner Anthony Elding, setting him up perfectly for a close-range volley.
Elding took the chance and smashed the ball away, giving Sligo the fairy-tale ending to this game and another famous FAI Cup victory in the Aviva Stadium.
It was utter pandemonium and football in its most electric form.
As a neutral that final sequence was jaw dropping to watch, I can only imagine the feelings inside the stadium that night.
Easily the best FAI Cup final the Aviva Stadium has ever held.