Robbie Benson of Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers' Ronan Finn pictured in the Aviva Stadium ahead of Sunday's cup final. Pic: Sportsfile.

Benson bids to make history with Dundalk in FAI Cup final

It's indicative of the sort of luck Robbie Benson has had with injuries in 2019 that breaking his leg five minutes into the first league game of the season in February wasn't even the low point of his year.

That came after the 27-year-old Athlone native returned to action for Dundalk in the summer only to sustain a second major setback in the form of a fractured rib and punctured lung.

“It was on the milder end of both of those injuries, but I still had to be monitored in hospital for four or five days,” Benson told the Westmeath Independent.

“It was a frustrating time and it was worse because of having worked so hard to come back from the broken leg. That was definitely the lowest moment of the season for me, and it put me out of the European campaign we had.”

The midfielder from Mayfield Grove has since bounced back and has been a regular starter for Dundalk in recent weeks as the league champions turn their attention to the FAI Cup final against Shamrock Rovers in the Aviva Stadium this Sunday.

If they lift the cup, Dundalk will be only the second team to have won the domestic treble, with Derry City having achieved it in 1989.

Benson admits the treble is something Dundalk's players and staff have been targeting all year. “We had a meeting at the start of the year and it was something we spoke about. Because our squad was so deep, and so strong, we felt it was definitely something we should aspire to achieve,” he said.

“A lot of the players would have won leagues, and won the double, but the treble is something we haven’t done. It's a chance for us to make a bit of history, so if that doesn’t incentivise you, I don’t know what will.”

Shamrock Rovers stand in their way. As it happens, Benson has made a habit of scoring against the Tallaght-based club. “I think I've ten or eleven goals against Rovers in my career, so it would be pretty sweet to keep that run going in the Aviva,” he said.

“There are only a handful of league grounds I haven’t scored in - I think Richmond Park, Dalymount, and the RSC in Waterford are the only ones - but to score in the Aviva would be something special.”

This is Dundalk's fifth consecutive cup final and the previous four, all of which were against Cork City, tended to be quite close and cagey. Dundalk's last game against Rovers in the league, however, was an open encounter which the Lilywhites won 3-2.

“If the game was to go like that on Sunday it would be a great spectacle for the neutral, but I think it’s the nature of cup finals that they’re very cagey,” said Benson.

“Nobody wants to give up anything and I’d say that will be a factor, but we hope our experience of cup finals, and dealing with the day, will tell. It's Rovers’ first final since 2010 and not a lot of their players have been there before - I think only one or two have played in a cup final - so hopefully that will work to our advantage.”

He described Rovers as “a serious team” that caused “headaches” for Dundalk in their previous meeting.

“They overload the midfield area, outnumber us in midfield with the way they set up, so we can find ourselves chasing the ball for a lot of the game. If you're chasing the ball for long periods on a big pitch like the Aviva that’s going to take its toll, so we have to make sure we keep the ball as best we can and hope that we can have control of the game.”

Rovers are bidding to win the cup for the first time since 1987 and it's hoped that the crowd on Sunday will match or exceed the 36,000 that attended their 2010 final against Sligo Rovers.

“The best players in the country will be on the pitch, the two best teams, and Shamrock Rovers have three internationals on their team in Jack Byrne, Graham Burke, and Joey O’Brien,” said Benson.

“The average man on the street who doesn’t follow the League of Ireland will still recognise Jack Byrne. In saying that, though, while I haven’t gone looking, I haven’t seen much promotion of the game in my day-to-day life. From that point of view, it’s a little bit disappointing. You’d like to think things would have been marketed better.”

His family and some of his friends will be making the trip to Dublin for the game and Benson said that, regardless of the outcome, he's determined to enjoy the occasion.

“I felt I played quite well in last year's final (in which Dundalk beat Cork 2-1) so that’s part of my thoughts, just to enjoy this week building up to the cup final, enjoy the day that’s in it, and the chance to play in the biggest game in the Irish football calendar with the best team, going for a treble.”

* The FAI Cup final between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers kicks off at 3.40pm on Sunday and will be televised live on RTE.