There is a familiar look to the 2018 FAI Final this weekend, with Cork City and Dundalk contesting it for the fourth straight year.
These two sides have dominated the League of Ireland in recent years and developed a fierce rivalry as a result.
The League has been Dundalk’s domain. Stephen Kenny’s men have just secured their fourth title in the last five years – all of which seeing Cork finish second. The year they failed to win it, Cork did.
Before you go feeling too sorry for Cork, though, they have certainly achieved a degree of vengeance in the FAI Cup, winning the last two.
Dundalk, though, naturally go into the match as favourites. They are even money (1/1) with Bet365 with Cork priced at 11/4.
Cork’s position of playing second fiddle to Dundalk while trying to rain on their parade is nothing new to them.
This weekend they find themselves in the exact same position they were in two years ago: trying to deny Dundalk the double.
They achieved it, winning the FAI Cup final courtesy of a late Sean Maguire goal deep into injury time. It proved the bedrock for a League of Ireland title the following season.
1-0 has been a very popular scoreline when these sides have met recently, and BetVictor offer 3/1 on either side winning by that scoreline in 90 minutes.
Indeed, three of the last four matches between them have been settled by a solitary goal, with Dundalk victorious in two of them. Another Dundalk 1-0 win can be backed at 11/2 with William Hill.
The FAI Cup final has gained something of a modern reputation for being a war of attrition. Of the last twelve finals dating back to 2006, eight have gone to extra time, with half of those eight requiring penalties to separate the teams.
Only once in the last 12 years, in 2014 when St Patrick’s Athletic beat Derry City 2-0, has there been more than a one goal difference between the finalists by the end of play.
The winning method being penalties for Dundalk may be another good way to go, but I’d certainly advise avoiding the winning margin markets for this one, as it’s unlikely to offer value.
It’s also worth noting that, should it indeed go to penalties, Dundalk’s record is unlikely to fill them with confidence after losing that way to Cork last season.
Such is the difficulty in calling this one, punters may want to wait for further news on the fitness of Dundalk star Pat Hoban before deciding where to place their money.
The 31-goal striker picked up a heavy knock on his ankle as the league season drew to a close, leaving him a serious injury doubt for the final.
"We’re hoping he’ll be alright for Sunday," boss Kenny told press. "When he was carried off first, it didn’t look great because he really hurt himself as he came down on his ankle.
"But it is his ankle, and it is the last game of the season, and he has never played at the Aviva and it is certainly his dream to do so.
"We won’t be sentimental about it and will make decisions based on the evidence that you have but I think he is very determined to play and he will want to play. He’ll get there in the end."
If he makes the line-up, you’d be hard-pressed to look past Hoban in the goalscorer markets (7/2 first goalscorer with William Hill). However, Cork’s Kieran Sadlier is well worth a punt too.
The midfielder has six goals in the FAI Cup this season as well as 15 in the league, and him being Cork’s regular penalty-taker will always make him a solid bet to find the net (21/10 anytime scorer with Paddy Power).
It’s going to be tight. At least, every single indicator out there suggests the margins will be wafer thin in this one.
The stakes are high, without question. Dundalk are chasing a league and cup double, and will be itching to get some semblance of payback on Cork who have often been a thorn in their side.
Meanwhile, Cork are aiming to be the first team since Shamrock Rovers over 30 years ago to win three FAI Cups on the bounce.
If Hoban is fit, it’s tough to see past Dundalk on the day, but either way if you invest your money in a tight contest, you’re unlikely to go too far wrong.
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