Last November Brian Gartland arrived at the Aviva Stadium on the verge of history.
He would produce a man of the match display on the day, picking up a new TV from Lally’s as a reward, but the ultimate prize of the FAI Cup and a treble eluded him as Shamrock Rovers won 4-2 on penalties.
Most of the talk over the close season last winter was about the Hoops and, to be fair to them, they’ve backed that up by being the best side domestically this season.
Nevertheless Gartland is determined to ensure that Dundalk put down a marker of their own at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday by showing that the Lilywhites are far from finished.
“There’s no motivation needed,” he said when asked about the final.
“They’ve been the best team in the country this year. I always say every year that the league doesn’t lie so they’ve been better than us throughout the year.
“Obviously last year to lose on penalties is a horrible way to lose a game. We’ve won on penos as well but it hurts. Now we’ve a great chance to go and make amends but it’s not all about that. It’s about us winning.
“Obviously you want a bit of a grudge and a bit of a rivalry. That has always been brilliant over the years with Cork. It adds needle to the game but if you want to win Cups you’ve got to beat the best teams and there’s no better place than the final to do it so hopefully we can.”
Gartland admits it has been a “poor season” by Dundalk’s lofty standards but says a Cup final is a “decent place” to end up at the end of it and is well aware that victory on Sunday can change how people view the club’s campaign.
“We were a penalty away from a clean sweep last year but that was quickly forgotten about. People always just fall upon the last game of the season, especially when it’s the two big teams playing. We came away from that and last season in the off season all you were hearing about was Rovers and them winning the Cup.
“In the back of your head you’re saying ‘hang on a sec, we’ve won every other trophy and although we didn’t play well in the final, it still went to penalties.’
“There is a bit of that to it that it can shape how the season is viewed. It can redeem us and change the complete mood and image of the season. It can paint a complete different picture.
“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs this year but if we can come away with the Cup on Sunday, with another Europa League group game to come and back in Europe next year with a Puskas nomination as well, that’s massive. There’s so much incentive for us because whoever wins the Cup that’s where the big pictures of the glory day come from that will be remembered at the end of the year.”
Dundalk’s preparations will be similar to 2016 when they arrived back from a Europa League game in Russia to face Cork City in the final. Gartland and co will be hoping for a different result on their return from Norway this week than when Sean Maguire won it for Cork at the very end of extra-time four years ago.
“We’ve won other games and not played as well,” reflected the 34-year-old.
“In that game Finner was exceptional for us. We played very well but in the final third I think we just lacked a bit that year although Cork to be fair had a really tight defence and didn’t give much away.
“We’d have loved a week to prepare for the final but it is what it is, you just have to get on with it. You can’t change it so there’s no point moaning about it.
“We’re preparing from now.
“The Athlone result sums up the mentality in this club. We might have had a few off days this year but that drive and hunger is still there and nothing is taken for granted,” he said.