Michael Duffy, Patrick Hoban and Jordan Flores were the goalscorers for Dundalk as they comfortably saw off old foes Cork City at Oriel Park to make it three wins from three in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
This was not a Dundalk-Cork game of old. The Leesiders have changed, unrecognisably so. Only Gearoid Morrissey – and the benched goalkeeeper Mark McNulty – remain from the classic title deciders and cup finals of days now past. But Vinny Perth’s team have a title to retain and three points obtained means mission acomplished. There’s no room for sentiment with an improving Shamrock Rovers leading the way in the table on goal difference.
Duffy’s first half volley promised a rout which never really materialised. On a night which frustrated at times, Hoban’s penalty, which came after the hour mark, doubled their lead. Flores’ stunner four minutes later was the game’s standout moment. He looks primed for a big season in 2020.
Perth made three changes to the side who beat Shelbourne in difficult conditions on Friday night. Daniel Cleary returned in place of Friday night goalscorer Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy was handed a first league start ahead of Dane Massey and Daniel Kelly replaced Greg Sloggett, with Scottish attacker Cammy Smith handed a more central role against the Leesiders.
Dundalk were without the services of Patrick McEleney, Sean Murray and John Mountney while the first appearance of new Serbian signing Stefan Colovic remains some way away yet. The absence of those four wasn’t particularly felt during Friday’s win as a strong first half showing proved enough to edge past a newly promoted Shels team who look capable of competing in mid-table under Ian Morris.
If that grand old club is on the rise, Cork City are falling fast. Having finished just one place above the relegation playoff position in 2019, Neale Fenn’s charge have lost their first two league games of the season – the second defeat a humbling 0-6 to Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght on Friday. Tough assignments can come thick and fast in the League of Ireland, especially when your squad is made of youngsters attempting to make a name for themselves in the midst of a relegation dogfight.
Dundalk know all too well about that. Ask current squad members Chris Shields and John Mountney about what life was like in 2012 under Sean McCaffrey and latterly Darius Kierans. Maybe their journey since will prove an inspiration to the young charges at Fenn’s disposal.
Somewhat uncharacteristically, boss Vinny Perth used his programme notes for the match to take a shot at not one, nor two but three members of the media – all unnamed – for comments made about the club in recent weeks. He feels some comments, on subjects ranging from supporters, Oriel Park and his squad, border on the critical. He came out swinging.
So did his team, likely smelling blood after Cork’s mauling at the hands of Graham Burke and company 72 hours previously. Within 60 seconds, Pat Hoban had slipped in Daniel Kelly who raced into the area, and touched the ball around the former Anderlecht and Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Liam Bossin before running out of angle to get a shot away.
Hoban’s header, from a deep Daniel Cleary cross, didn’t trouble Bossin but Michael Duffy’s low shot did. Cammy Smith almost got in the winger’s way when he shaped to shoot from 20 yards. His eventual shot was saved by the goalkeeper but only gathered on the second attempt.
The opening goal arrived on 16 minutes. After Cammy Smith’s shot was blocked inadvertently by Patrick Hoban, A quick throw led to a cross from the right which was met first time by Duffy who, on the edge of the six yard box, lashed home a first time volley. Cork simply were not set.
Before then, there was a sense of frustration among the home supporters that their side had not yet found a breakthrough. After Rovers smashed six past the young Rebels, expectation of another goal glut on the Carrick Road was high.
The opening 25 minutes were not a complete rearguard action but it wasn’t far off one. Centre backs Joseph Oluwu (on loan from Arsenal) and Joe Redmond won their fair share of aerial duels to their credit and often Dundalk’s final pass wasn’t calibrated perhaps as it should have been.
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The game went through a considerable lull after that, with neither side able to muster anything noteworthy in terms of chances. That said, Dundalk seemed the only team capable. Bar a Beineon O’Brien Whitmarsh header that was deflected out for a corner and a Dylan McgGlade set piece that evaded everyone en route to touch, Cork offered nothing.
Dundalk weren’t doing much more though. Too often the final ball was lacking and Gary Rogers elicited groans from the crowd when he kicked a backpass out of play under no pressure whatsoever.
Their best opportunity for the best part of 25 minutes arrived shortly before the break when Kelly’s right wing cross was met my an impressive Cleary leap. The connection was nowhere near as good and he headed over from all of two yards out. With two games off due to inclement weather, this was one of only three games taking place on the first evening of Monday night football in 2020.
The Lilywhites were blowing more cold than hot but at least had the comfort of a goal advantage and a timid opposition who offered little in riposte.
Sean Hoare went close early in the second half. His header from Duffy’s cross was travelling inside the near post but the Belgian-born stopper showed why the Cork manager has put his faith in him, ahead of the experienced Mark McNulty.
The second arrived on 62 minutes. Daniel Kelly was felled in the area by Cork’s Ronan Hurley. Hoban made absolutely no mistake from 12 yards. At 1-0, Cork always had something of a chance – regardless of how remote it may be. Now, the game was dead as a contest.
No one told Flores however. Minutes later, he received a Daniel Kelly pass 25 yards out in a central position. He hit a shot as true as he could ever wish to. He was still rising as it beat Bossin and hit the net top corner of the net on the Carrick Road end. In fact, that was his last contribution of the game. The former Wigan Athletic player was replaced by Greg Sloggett.
By that stage, there was a celebratory atmosphere at Oriel Park. Even at 1-0, it was far from it. After Daniel Cleary – on the half way line – passed all the way to Gary Rogers when several shorter options looked to be on, the crowd reacted badly and he made his own disdain clear, directing words to fans positioned behind the dugout. It was an unsavoury moment on a night that didn’t required one.
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Late on, Kelly had two excellent chances to add to the scoreline but could get neither attempt on target. Duffy too saw an effort saved by Bossin.
This was not the Cork City of old. That rivalry looks to be a thing of the past. Even last year, the old names and faces remained. Now, it’s a new proposition. They are in for a tough season. Dundalk march on.
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary, Darragh Leahy, Chris Shields, Jordan Flores (Greg Sloggett, 68), Daniel Kelly, Cammy Smith (Will Patching, 71), Michael Duffy (Lido Lotefa, 87), Patrick Hoban.
Subs: Aaron McCarey, Brian Gartland, Dane Massey, Andy Boyle.
CORK CITY: Liam Bossin, Kyron Stabana, Joseph Oluwu , Joe Redmond, Ronan Hurley, Henry Ochieng, Gearoid Morrissey (Dale Holland, 83), Alec Byrne, Daire O’Connor (Cory Gavin, 71), Dylan McGlade, Beineon O’Brien-Whitmarsh (Cian Murphy, 87).
Subs: Mark McNulty, Charlie Fleming, Rob Slevin, Reyon Dillon, Cian Murphy.