Dundalk and Cork City meet in an FAI Cup final for the fourth consecutive year.
Of the three previous finals, Cork lead the Cup head to head by two to one. All three games have gone to extra-time with last year’s decider going to the way of Cork on penalties.
The above being considered, Dundalk have had the better of the two sides’ meetings in the league this season. The Lilywhites have won three of the four meetings between the teams.
While there’s only been the odd goal between the sides on each occasion, Dundalk saw out their Championship winning campaign in fine form, winning five of their last seven games.
Cork meanwhile won four from seven but included a costly defeat to their title rivals and a terminal draw against Shamrock Rovers.
This being the fourth straight meeting of the Dundalk and Cork in the final is both an indictment of the competition in the country and an endorsement of each team.
What we can certainly expect, considering the wealth of recent high stakes head to head matches, is a tight game. As mentioned, all four league games this season were decided by one-goal margins. In fact, in their last 15 games against each other, on only two occasions has there been more to separate the sides – Dundalk winning 2-0 in 2014 and Cork winning 3-0 last season.
While both sides aim to play expansive football, they’ve failed to hit those heights at the Aviva Stadium every time. It’s likely to be a tense and tight encounter.
Essential to Dundalk’s chances of securing the double will be the fitness of the country’s leading marksman. Patrick Hoban, scorer of 32 goals in all competitions, left the dressing room on crutches after their last game against Bohemians. His manager Stephen Kenny insists he’ll be fit for the game and it’s likely to be a vital differentiator.
Cork City, by John Caufield’s own admission, were forced into a bit of a re-building season after losing a number of their title winning squad before the start of the 2018 season. Ultimately they did run Dundalk close and will be well driven to upset Dundalk’s charge for a double just like in 2016.
Dundalk have standing concerns over the fitness of Robbie Benson and Jamie McGrath, they missed out at Bohs due to niggling injuries.
Cork look in decent health for the final. There is a question mark over Karl Sheppard but otherwise they should have a full deck to choose from.
While Cork will be determined to add a considerable silver lining to the story of their season, I can’t look past the Lilywhites.
They’ve been a cut-above throughout this year, combining the best attack with the best defence in the league.
It’s their defence, averaging just 0.6 goals conceded per league game, that takes the lead in this pick.
Dundalk to win to nil 21/10