What has for so long seemed an inevitability suffered another bruising postponement at Dalymount Park as Bohemians, the team which had ended City’s remarkable 22-game unbeaten run back in July, held them scoreless on a disappointing night for the visitors.
And with Dundalk prevailing over Bray in Oriel Park and narrowing the gap at the top again, it all means City still require one point from their final three games to clinch the title.
Bohs, beaten last time out by Sligo Rovers, had Dan Casey, Dylan Hayes and Paddy Kavanagh in for Ian Morris, Georgie Poynton and the suspended Keith Ward, while there were two changes from the Cork City side which beat Limerick in the FAI Cup semi-final, with Greg Bolger replacing the injured Conor McCormack and Jimmy Keohane taking over from Conor McCarthy at right-back.
On a misty night and on a greasy surface in what the traditionalists still call ‘the home of Irish football’, it was Cork who made much the brighter start, the Bohs box soon under a period of sustained pressure from high tempo attacking on both flanks, with Kieran Sadlier coming close in the eighth minute when he cut in from the right and sent a low drive whistling narrowly wide of Shane Supple’s near post.
Next came controversy, as the huge travelling Cork support, who were noisily turning the Des Kelly Stand into the Shed End, howled for a penalty and Karl Sheppard was left angrily beating the turf, after Supple sent the striker tumbling in the box as he looked to capitalise on a terrific through ball from Bolger.
Referee Rob Harvey must have been one of the few people in the ground not convinced by the damning evidence and, to Cork dismay, play was waved on.
When on the odd occasion he wasn’t overdoing the touches in front of his own defence, Garry Buckley was a driving force in midfield for City as they continued to take the game to their opponents. But whenever ‘keeper Mark McNulty found himself with the ball in his hands, he had no reservations about booming one the length of the pitch, even in the face of recurring proof that Route One was perhaps not the most effective route to goal on a night when, the penalty appeal apart, the visitors were still struggling to create a clear-cut chance.
After a first half in which City had been dominant and Bohemians dogged but the scoreboard remained untroubled, the game resumed after the break with the home side suddenly getting on the front foot and mounting their first real efforts on goal, McNulty having to save on the double from Paddy Kavanagh and Derek Pender.
Then Shane Griffin had to clear the always threatening Ismahil Akinade’s effort off the line after he’d rounded the Cork ‘keeper, before it was Bohs’ turn to claim a penalty as the same two players tangled in the box. But, again, referee Harvey was unmoved.
With Dinny Corcoran then misdirecting a free header in front of goal from a Kavanagh cross, it was all Bohemians now, City having comprehensively lost their way in the game and looking like they would need to find a moment of inspiration from somewhere to regain the initiative – and wrap up the league.
But it was not to be. And so on to Monday night at the Cross when you have the feeling that, no matter what Derry City or even Hurricane Ophelia might throw at them, destiny dictates and demands that Cork finally seal the deal.
Supple, Pender, Byrne (Gannon 45), Cornwall, Hayes, Casey, Sule (Morris 91), Brennan, Kavanagh, Akinade, Corcoran
McNulty, Keohane, Bennett, Delaney, Griffin, Morrissey, Bolger, Sadlier (McCarthy 65), Buckley, Dooley, Sheppard (Campion 90)