It wasn’t the way they would have preferred to win but when the FAI Cup was on the line last Sunday in the Aviva Stadium, Sligo Rovers sent for super-sub Ciaran Kelly who repeated his man of the match heroics by saving two Shelbourne spot-kick in a dramatic penalty shoot-out as the Bit O’Red retained the Cup in front of their ecstatic fans.
With the Aviva thronged with a 21,622 crowd, an estimated 17,000 cheering on the Bit O’Red, Sligo retained the FAI Cup to make up in some small way to losing out in the Airtricity League just a few weeks ago.
But Sligo’s triumph was over-shadowed by the controversial dismissal of Shelbourne’s Barry Clancy.
With the National media whipping up a storm over the sending off, Kelly coming off his line for two of the spot kicks and even the fact that the penalties were taken into the end of the Aviva Stadium populated by hordes of Sligo fans, Sligo retained the cup in the same fashion they had lifted a year beforehand.
Kelly’s role in the victory was the stuff of fairytale and should have been the focus of attention after the final, manager Paul Cook springing the 31-year-old keeper off the bench as extra-time ran out with the very intention of performing the heroics he so ably demonstrated on Sunday.
And Cook had full confidence in his sub keeper’s abilities – “He’s phenomenal at them. He just seems to have a way of reading people’s body language. I’m not trying to be clever … Brendan’s been our goalkeeper all year but if you’ve got a lad who saves penalties the way he does then you’ve got to let him give it a go. I told Clarkey we might do it beforehand.
“Obviously he is a bit disappointed but he’s got a winner’s medal around his neck in there.”
As for the spot-kick hero, Kelly was a big bemused by it all – “Ah, my annual five minutes of fame. There was a lot of talk about it during the week but I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. Then, as the 90 minutes were nearly up the gaffer told me to make sure I was right.
To read the full story and for pictorial coverage of Sligo Rovers’ stop in Carrick-on-Shannon see this week’s Leitrim Observer.