The champions had struggled to get the measure of their great rivals in the first half but, in front of a crowd of 6,672 which included Roy Keane, Morrissey’s well-struck volley in the 59th minute, combined with a resolute defensive display, was enough to give John Caulfield’s team a significant victory which was rapturously received by the majority inside a jam-packed Turner’s Cross.
For the home side, Shane Griffin’s absence through injury opened the door to what would prove to be a memorable league debut for Danny Kane at left-back while once again Kieran Sadlier had to be content with a starting place on the bench where he was joined by Steven Beattie who was available after suspension.
Dundalk showed one change from the side held 2-2 by Derry City, with Chris Shields coming into the middle for Stephen O’Donnell.
The anticipated heavyweight collision duly produced one in the opening minutes, Sean Gannon’s late and heavy challenge on Kane actually doing more damage to the Dundalk man than his Cork counterpart, and earning the former an early yellow card into the bargain.
Starting with their customary intensity, City were the side asking most of the questions early on as Dundalk struggled to get into their passing stride but neither ‘keeper was tested in a somewhat frantic and occasionally sloppy first fifteen minutes, pock-marked by the repeated shrill blast of the referee’s whistle.
Not surprisingly then, it was a set-piece which almost brought the visitors the breakthrough in the 19th minute, Michael Duffy’s free from the left glanced onto the foot of the far post by the head of Daniel Cleary, with Mark McNulty a helpless onlooker in the City goal.
And minutes later, McNulty had to be alert to prevent Dundalk capitalising on another set-piece, this time a Duffy free struck directly on goal from just outside the box.
The visitors were now getting on top but, with a slippery surface contributing to a high error count, it was still a full 32 minutes before a chance arose from some real creativity on the ball, John Mountney’s jinking crossfield run and pass setting up Duffy for an effort which went inches wide of McNulty’s far post.
Nevertheless, it pretty much summed up the relatively underwhelming nature of proceedings that the biggest cheer of the first half was reserved for Dundalk ‘keeper Gary Rogers when he left the safety of his box to intercept one of City’s many long balls forward and then, having advanced a couple of yards up the wing, decided discretion was the better part of valour and opted to welly the ball into the stand.
City hadn’t really threatened Rogers’ goal in the first 45 and although, following the break, the home side were now playing into the Shed End, it was Dundalk who picked up where they left off, McNulty first having to save a Robbie Benson header after more good work on the left by Duffy and then, in the clearest opening of the night so far, Jamie McGrath, with time and space on his side, managing only to poke the ball wide from directly in front of goal.
Just short of the hour mark, John Caulfield sent Garry Buckley into the fray in place of Jimmy Keohane and, almost immediately, the move paid rich dividends as City roared into the lead.
Karl Sheppard did well to twist and turn and dig out a cross from the left which Buckley volleyed against the bar and, when the Dundalk defence could only clear the ball to the edge of the box, there was Gearoid Morrissey perfectly positioned to meet it with a volley of his own and register the first goal the Lilywhites have conceded on the road in this campaign.
Dundalk pressure came in waves after that, with McNulty causing a few palpitations when he required a second attempt to hold a rasping drive from substitute Ronan Murray with a couple of minutes of normal time remaining.
But, with an exemplary display of discipline and composure, City’s youthful defence held firm to register the team’s fourth clean sheet on the trot in the league and ensure that Morrissey’s goal was enough to seal the three points and send the Rebels to the top of the table.
“For the past few seasons, they have been our closest rivals,” said City defender Conor McCarthy after the final whistle.
“To win 1-0 was sweet. We suffered up there when they were celebrating our 1-0 loss so it was nice to get it.
“Yeah we’re all young fellas but it’s good, we’re working hard in training, we’re getting well drilled by John Caulfield and John Cotter. We have four clean sheets in a week and a half so we’re happy with that.”
McNulty, Horgan, McLoughlin, McCarthy, Kane, Morrissey, McCormack, McNamee (Sadlier 80), Keohane (Buckley 58), Sheppard, Cummins (O’Hanlon 88)
Rogers, Gannon (Folan 45), Hoare, Cleary, Massey, Shields, Benson, Mountney (Connolly 82), McGrath (Murray 66), Duffy, Hoban Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin)