For one brief moment late on, Dundalk lined out with six men across the back as they bid to withstand the Shelbourne onslaught late on. Subs Brian Gartland and Darragh Leahy, on for Michael Duffy and Jordan Flores, took their places alongside the starting back four as Shels – their attack spearheaded by former Oriel Park hero Ciaran Kilduff – sought an equaliser.
Vinny Perth will appreciate this win as much as any he leads his team to over the course of the 2020 season which remains in its infancy. That much was apparent from early in the second when veteran midfielder Gary Deegan halved the deficit with a shot that found the net via Gary Rogers’ right hand upright.
Shels started the second half with intent, got their goal and with their tails up chased an equaliser in front of a capacity 3,010 crowd at Tolka Park. The old place was rocking on its first night hosting Premier Division football since 2013. Within minutes of the goal, Ian Morris had lined up attacker Shane Farrell to join the fray. In response, Dundalk’s Gartland went through an extensive warm up before he crossed the line late on.
On a dirty, wet and windy night in Drumcondra, one laced with the peril those conditions so frequently bring, the champions on more than one occasion were in danger of slipping up. The reaction of some players, notably Greg Sloggett who punched the air upon Damien MacGraith’s whistle, said it all.
Andy Boyle, on his return to the club where he made 64 appearances between across two seasons at the start of the last decade, set Dundalk on their way with a simple finish. Patrick Hoban’s header from Michael Duffy’s free kick two minutes prior to the break put Dundalk in a control that was eroded throughout a difficult second half in tough conditions. But, the cushion proved enough for the Lilywhites to make it two wins from two.
Only Shamrock Rovers’s six goal hammering of Cork City in Tallaght is keeping the champions off top spot for the moment. With Cork to visit Oriel Park on Monday, expectations of the Carrick Road faithful will be of similarly high-scoring demolition job. For Perth, who will know that traditionally Dundalk can be slow starters, he will be thrilled his team have squeaked out two wins from two.
The game’s first incident of note saw close season arrival Sloggett booked for hauling back Karl Sheppard who was running through midfield after picking up an uncharacteristically sloppy cross field pass from Chris Shields. Former Dundalk youngster Georgie Poynton escaped censure for a foul on Sean Gannon soon after before Deegan was then carded for a late challenge on Duffy.
The same player made a more timely intervention on Duffy moments later. His perfectly timed tackle stopped the winger in his tracks as he shaped to come inside and shoot in the area. Shels had no answer to the corner through. Duffy’s delivery was flicked on at the near post and came through to Boyle at the far post to simply tap in.
The 28-year-old has had to bide his time for game time since his return to the club last summer, with Dan Cleary and Sean Hoare deemed the men in possession for much of the latter half of 2019. But, in starting the first two games of this season, Boyle is well and truly back in the fold. His return to Tolka had brought him a 10th Dundalk goal.
Dundalk were in total control, in truth, for much of the first period. Shels offered little to no genuine threat to Gary Rogers’ goal. The veteran goalkeeper was making his 555th league appearances, drawing level with Shels hero Owen Heary. Jaze Kabia and Alex O’Hanlon delivered crosses from the right and left respectively, both of which Ciaran Kilduff was unable to reach.
After Dane Massey was felled by Kabia, Duffy swung in a cross from the resultant free kick and Patrick Hoban found himself, unadvisedly from the home team’s perspective, free in the area. His glancing header beat Jack Brady in the home goal with two minutes to play until the break.
The last time the teams met in the league action – the 2013 season – Dundalk won all three encounters. At that time, the Lilywhites wee on an upward tracjectory in the first season under new boss Stephen Kenny. Who could have envisaged what was to come from his six seasons in charge?
That year, Shelbourne were relegated from the top tier and have endured from lean years in that time – not always competing for what most would consider to be the minimum, challenging at the top of the league. Finn Harps, UCD, Athlone Town and Wexford Youths are among the teams who have bested Shels in recent years.
Deegan’s leveller arrived on 53 minutes. From the edge of the area, he controlled a dropping ball and lashed in a shot that was helped into the net via the post. The 32-year-old is back in the League of Ireland after 11 years away in the English Football League where the tenacious midfielder represented four clubs, with one season at Hibernian in Scotland added in for good measure.
Not a goalscorer of any repute, his strike was just his second in six-and-a-half years. Dating back to his spell with Bohemians in 2009 however, it was his second in 14 domestic League of Ireland games – a respectable haul, we’re sure he would agree.
The Lilywhites by this stage were having trouble making anything stick up front although Sloggett did force a decent if routine sae from Brady. It was loud inside the old, but not so grand, stadium. Shels fans gave more than one rendition of ‘You’re only here to see the Shelbourne’ while with a lead to hold onto, travelling supporters were in good voice too.
Ian Morris’ decision to bring on Shane Farrell for Aaron Dobbs was a positive one – as was his decision to start with two striekrs up front in a bid to take the time to Dundalk on the Dubliner’s first game back in the big time. They undoubtedly feel they belong on this stage.
The home side were constantly looking for the early ball forward to find Kilduff, not long balls but through – and they were having some joy. The striker nipped in after indecision between Boyle and Hoare but referee MacGraith pulled play back for a foul on the latter.
Shels duo Sean Quinn and Aidan Friel were booked in quick succession as the game threatened briefly to boil over. It was an intense and hard-fought game throughout – making Dundalk’s win all the more sweet and promising much from Shels across the campaign, especially at Tolka.
— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) February 21, 2020
Dundalk’s best opportunity of the second half when Dane Massey’s shot was blocked by Daniel O’Reilly after a corner. At the other end, Sheppard and Kabia looked set to race through on Rogers’ goal were it not for the interventions of Shields and Gannon.
Ryan Brennan, a Drogheda native as remembered by the away fans, played a superb pass into the path of Sheppard but Rogers was our sharply to block before the ex-Rovers and Cork man could shoot on goal. Late on, Hoare was guilty of squandering possession from a square Gartland pass. Again, Kabia was away – again, Shields was the covering man.
In injury time, there remains time for subs Leahy and Daniel Kelly to receive yellow cards, the second for kicking the ball away.
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey, Chris Shields, Jordan Flores (Darragh Leahy, 90), Greg Sloggett, Cammy Smith (Daniel Kelly, 58), Michael Duffy (Brian Gartland, 85), Patrick Hoban.
Subs: Aaron McCarey, Dan Cleary, Will Patching, Lido Lotefa.
SHELBOURNE: Jack Brady, Aidan Friel, Daniel O’Reilly, Luke Byrne, Alex O’Hanlon, Jaze Kabia, Gary Deegan (Ryan Brennan, 75), Georgie Poynton (Sean Quinn, 71), Karl Sheppard, Aaron Dobbs (Shane Farrell, 58), Ciaran Kilduff.
Subs: Colin McCabe, Lorcan Fitzgerald, Oscar Brennan, Dayle Rooney.
REFEREE: Damien MacGraith