Champions Dundalk opened their season with a victory for the first time in three seasons as Dane Massey popped up with a 79th-minute winner to break Derry City hearts at Oriel Park.
The 31-year-old - making his 200th league start for the Louth men - volleyed home from Jordan Flores’ corner to give Vinny Perth’s side their first opening day win since beating Shamrock Rovers 2-1 in 2017.
Few could argue the home side were deserving of the win having dominated for long periods.
Derry too had their chances but their failure to take them means their winless run at Oriel Park now extends to 14 matches dating back almost seven years since winning 3-1 in April 2013.
The visitors started on the front foot with Lilywhites centre-halves Andy Boyle and Daniel Cleary being called into action to block efforts from debutants Danny Lupano and Tim Nilsen.
The champions grew into the game more and more as the half progressed and should have taken the lead on 33 minutes when good work on the left by Michael Duffy saw him cross for Sean Gannon, who lost his footing at the crucial moment.
The Louth men went even closer two minutes later when Duffy’s corner picked out the unmarked Patrick Hoban only for his close-range header to spin up off the back of Nilsen and over the crossbar.
The Candystripes then had another let-off two minutes before the break when Daniel Cleary’s cross was flicked on by Hoban into the path of debutant Cammy Smith, who lifted the ball over Peter Cherrie only for Ciaran Coll to head off the line.
Dundalk continued to press on the restart with two Daniel Kelly efforts from the edge of the box, the first hitting the stanchion behind the goal before he rattled the crossbar with a fierce left-foot strike on 51 minutes.
Declan Devine’s side then almost took the lead against the run of play three minutes later when McDonagh picked out Nilsen unmarked at the back post but Rogers did well to keep it out.
Dundalk pressed again two minutes later with Cherrie punching clear only as far as Cleary, whose low volley was blocked en route to goal. The rebound fell to Hoban but he too was denied at close range before Cherrie came to the rescue again on 59 minutes to turn a spectacular effort from Smith over the crossbar.
The breakthrough finally arrived on 79 minutes when Massey swept home Flores’ corner on the volley.
Derry should have levelled three minutes later, however, when Nilsen drilled a cross into the path of substitute Adam Liddle but the on-loan Reading player could only send it back in the direction it came from as Dundalk held out to make a winning start to their title defence.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon, Cleary, Boyle; Massey; Shields, Sloggett (Flores 72); Kelly (Hoare 87), Smith (Patching 75), Duffy; Hoban.
Derry City: Cherrie; Lupano, Toal, Gilchrist, Coll; Clifford (Malone 63), Harkin (Mallon 83), McCormack; McDonagh, Nilsen, Figueira (Liddle 78).
Referee: N Doyle (Dublin).
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