Dundalk had led for most of the match following Richie Towell’s early strike but City looked to have grabbed a point when Darren Dennehy headed home his brother Billy’s long free-kick six minutes from time.
However, Dundalk went straight up the other end and, following a goalmouth scramble, Gartland poked the ball home to put Dundalk in pole position to claim their first title since the 1994/1995 season.
Cork boss John Caulfield made four changes to the side outplayed by Bohemians last week, with new signing from Sligo Rovers Ross Gaynor going straight into the starting 11.
Out went Iarfhlaith Davoren, who went in the opposite direction to Gaynor, Cillian Morrison and John O’Flynn, with Brian Lenihan ruled out after getting concussed last week.
Garry Buckley returned from suspension and Gearoid Morrissey was also back following an ankle injury, with Josh O’Shea getting the nod on the right side of midfield.
Free-scoring Dundalk, who have rattled in 52 league goals in 21 games before last night, and 75 goals in all competitions, went into the game in superb form having beaten Hajduk Split in Croatia last week and then hammered Bray Wanderers 5-1 on Sunday.
Dundalk’s fellow title chasers were hoping the Lilywhites’ European exertions may result in them dropping points, but Stephen Kenny’s men won all their matches after their European games and went into last night’s game on an 11 league game unbeaten run — their last defeat was way back on April 25 when Bray Wanderers won 1-0 at The Carlisle Grounds.
Kenny had Chris Shields returning to the side after suspension and he replaced Ruaidhri Higgins in the only change to the side that took Bray apart last weekend.
Last Friday’s disappointing performance was City’s first league defeat in 10 and it was paramount that Caulfield’s side did not lose this one. Buckley was close to getting on the end of O’Shea’s cross in the opening minute before Billy Dennehy flashed a long-range effort wide as City started the game on the front foot.
The tackles were flying in early on with referee Padraig Sutton brandishing six yellow cards, four of them to the home side, in the opening 27 minutes.
Dundalk’s first effort on goal came in the 11th minute when Mark McNulty got down well to save Richie Towell’s low free-kick.
Towell didn’t have to wait long, however, for his next chance and when Dan Murray failed to clear former City favourite Daryl Horgan’s through-ball four minutes later, the ball fell nicely for Towell, who made no mistake in stroking the ball past McNulty from the edge of the box to put Dundalk in front.
City’s rash tackling and over-eagerness was costing them as they began to lose their shape and McNulty had to get down well to deny Horgan before Darren Meenan went close with another effort.
The league leaders looked the more accomplished side in the opening half-hour and it took City until the 36th minute to threaten their goal, when Colin Healy shot over.
Towell was close to a second a minute before the break following a great run by Kurtis Byrne but the Dundalk playmaker’s rasping volley from the edge of the box flew inches wide.
John O’Flynn was introduced for O’Shea in the 58th minute as Caulfield looked for more firepower to unlock the Dundalk defence, where Brian Gartland and Andy Boyle were very comfortable.
O’Flynn looked to be taken out by Dane Massey midway through the second half after Billy Dennehy picked him out, but referee Sutton waved play on much to the annoyance of the baying Shed End.
Exciting youngster Danny Morrissey then replaced Gaynor as Caulfield went for broke with three strikers on the pitch and the substitute was inches away from connecting with O’Flynn’s cross 11 minutes from time as the home side cranked up the pressure.
That pressure did tell five minutes later when Darren Dennehy headed home — but Kenny’s men weren’t to be denied and Gartland’s goal has put Dundalk’s title destiny firmly in their own hands.
Dundalk’s Darren Meenan and Cork City’s Billy Dennehy get tetchy; 58), Healy, G Morrissey (Kearney 80), Buckley, B. Dennehy; O’Sullivan.
Cherrie; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Meenan (Mountney 71);, Shields, Towell, Byrne (Higgins 60), Horgan (McDermott 78), Hoban.
P Sutton (Clare).