IT was a marathon, not a sprint. Ultimately it was the staying power of Drogheda United that carried them into the Setanta Cup final with an epic extra-time win over St Patrick's Athletic at Richmond Park last night.
After withstanding a first half barrage, the defending champions wrestled the initiative in a thrilling clash between the teams that have dominated the start of the domestic campaign.
And while it looked like Drogheda had blown their opportunity when Stuart Byrne missed a penalty in the 90th minute, they were the stronger side throughout extra-time despite the injury crisis which meant they could only name four subs on the bench.
Eventually, their pressure paid off when Eamonn Zayed latched onto a cross from Byrne in the 112th minute to blast a spectacular volley past Saints 'keeper Barry Ryan.
Games like this often promise so much but rarely deliver. Yet the only disappointing thing about this encounter was that it took so long for the deadlock to be broken.
Otherwise, it was open and entertaining as both sides created their fair share of chances. It was the Dubliners who retained the ball better early on, although it was the Louth men that forged the first clear goal-scoring opportunity.
That came with 17 minutes on the clock when a Stephen Bradley corner dropped to Paul Keegan who stabbed the ball past Ryan only for defender Stephen Brennan to hack it off the line.
After that scare, however, it was the hosts who took the ascendancy. They lead the Louth men in the Premier Division table on goal difference and showed their confidence going forward by breaching the Boynesiders rearguard on a number of occasions.
Wing-back Anto Murphy has been a potent threat on the right this season and he was denied twice in a frantic period midway through the half, with Drogs 'keeper Mikko Vilmunen pushing a close range volley wide of the post before a block from Brian Shelley frustrated the Saints man after his header from Keith Fahey's corner.
John McDonnell's side kept up the high tempo and just past the half-hour mark they came even closer when a Mark Quigley strike rocketed off the underside of the crossbar and to safety.
Further chances for Colm Foley and John Frost followed, with the only sour point of the opening half being a number of flashpoint incidents between the latter and fellow Waterford man Shane Robinson.
The visitors clearly had a productive half-time discussion as they came back out in far more composed fashion after the interval and got a foothold in the game.
For that, they were almost rewarded on the hour mark when the off-balance Ollie Cahill was unfortunate to be kept out by a point-black stop from Ryan after a clever Keegan delivery.
But while Paul Doolin's side were now holding their own, they still had some defending to do with two Fahey free-kicks and a Gary O'Neill attempt after a breakaway move all threatening Vilmunen's goal.
Extra-time was an inevitable culmination to the profligacy from both sides, but not before some drama in the first minute of injury-time when Drogheda forced a penalty after Murphy's rash challenge on Simon Webb.
Stand-in captain Byrne, and former Shelbourne midfielder, stepped up to drill a right-footed shot that came back off the post before it was cleared to safety. Luckily for him, it was a miss that he would not live to regret.
© Irish Independent