That the 2-1 victory defeat of Bohemians which took them over the finish line was not exactly vintage stuff from the champions mattered not a bit in the end. With their central defence providing the winning route to goal, Stephen Kenny’s team did enough on the night to provide a fitting finale to all that they have achieved across this and two previous league campaigns — and, of course, in this season of seasons for the club, there is a cup final and more European adventures still to come.
“To win one league is special — to win three, I could never have dreamed of it,” said a delighted Kenny after the final whistle.
“And to do that in the same year as winning matches in the Europa League and getting to another cup final is just incredible. The league was always the priority but everything is important. We want to try and get an historic result in Russia now and then we’ll have a cup final against Cork in front of maybe 30,000 people. That’ll be another great occasion for us.”
Expectations were already soaring inside the packed ground before kick-off, returning old boy Steve Staunton among the faithful fully anticipating confirmation of Dundalk’s domestic supremacy in recent seasons.
After just 15 minutes, stand-in skipper Andy Boyle — with Stephen O’Donnell looking on approvingly from the stand — appeared to have set the defending champions on an irretrievable course with a close-range finish from a Patrick McEleney corner.
But Oriel was stunned into silence just short of the half-hour mark when, out of nothing, Bohs equalised, referee Neil Doyle pointing to the spot after judging that Ronan Finn had fouled Keith Buckley in the box. It looked a debatable decision to say the least, but Mark Quigley stepped up confidently to send Gary Rogers the wrong way and sow just the tiniest seed of doubt in Lilywhite minds.
When, coming up to the end of the first half, Finn couldn’t keep his shot down after being put through by David McMillan at the end of a sweeping Dundalk move and McEleney saw his fierce cross-cum-shot batted away by Supple, you sensed a rising level of frustration in the ground.
The mood didn’t get any better immediately after the resumption, the air of impatience in the stands seemingly transmitting itself to the players in white whose unforced errors were uncharacteristic, while Bohs, playing some clever stuff on the break, were growing in confidence.
But cometh the hour, or the 63nd minute to be precise, and all was suddenly well again in Oriel Park, as Brian Gartland popped up at the far post to meet Dane Massey’s long-range header with a close range one of his own — and the sight and sound of the whole stadium shooting to its feet in acclamation told you that the champions were firmly back on track.
It was pretty much all Dundalk after that, every attack offering fresh hope to the crowd of 4,637 that the third goal which would seal the deal could not be far away.
That it didn’t come didn’t matter in the end. All that mattered was that Bohs couldn’t find a way to goal either and so, a night when their central defenders had done the decisive work at the other end of the pitch, finished with Dundalk players and fans united in celebration on the pitch of another milestone for this remarkable club.
Meanwhile, runners-up Cork City play the penultimate game of another so-near-yet-so-far league campaign against Wexford Youths at Turner’s Cross tonight (7.45pm).
Boss John Caulfield said: “It is our last home game of the season. Wexford have to win to have any chance of avoiding the play-off, so it changes the type of game. Normally Wexford would sit back and try to hit you on the counter-attack, but I expect it to be very open. With it being our last home game, we want to win in front of our own supporters.”
Greg Bolger, Garry Buckley, Kenny Browne, and Steven Beattie all miss out through suspension but that will be of little concern to them or to Cork’s supporters who now have next month’s FAI Cup final firmly in mind as City look to deny Dundalk the double double. Incidentally, with one train already sold-out, tickets are now on sale for a second cup final train from Cork to Dublin.
Rogers, Keane, Gartland, Boyle, Massey, Mountney (Benson 54), Shields, Finn, Horgan, McEleney ((Meenan 71), McMillan (Kilduff 81)
Supple, Pender, Fitzgerald, Lopes, Predergast, D. Byrne, Kavanagh, Buckley, K Byrne, O’Halloran (Wearen 71), Quigley (Casey 82)
Neil Doyle (Dublin)