Duffy delivers for Dundalk

This was a far more commanding victory for Dundalk than the narrow scoreline might suggest, as a Michael Duffy header capped an at times swaggering display from the champions to claim a big three points in defence of their title and bring Cork City’s recent resurgence to a shuddering halt.

Duffy delivers for Dundalk

This was a far more commanding victory for Dundalk than the narrow scoreline might suggest, as a Michael Duffy header capped an at times swaggering display from the champions to claim a big three points in defence of their title and bring Cork City’s recent resurgence to a shuddering halt.

Although a raucous crowd of 3,783 and the presence of the live TV cameras testified to the magnitude of the game, this was a rare occasion when the New Firm who have dominated League of Ireland football for the past few years found themselves going head to head as part of the chasing pack looking to cut Shamrock Rovers’ lead at the top, a consequence of the Hoops’ winning run and games in hand, and both Dundalk and Cork City having to make up ground after stuttering starts to the new campaign.

But, of the two great rivals, it’s the Lilywhites who are now firmly into their fluent stride and City who must regroup ahead of the leaders’ visit to Turner’s Cross next week.

Both teams came into the game missing some key personnel, the Lilywhites without Robbie Benson, Chris Shields and Patrick McEleney although, in better news for the home side, Michael Duffy and Sean Murray were cleared to play.

The visitors were without the quicksilver Daire O’Connor and the suspended James Tilley, but a couple of other pre-match injury worries, notably goal of the season main man Gearóid Morrissey and, wearing the captain’s armband, Karl Sheppard, made it into the starting line-up.

And with Kevin O’Connor coming in at left back, it meant Shane Griffin was pushed forward into an advanced position on the same flank.

But with the game barely 10 minutes old — and after Sean Murray had already had a penalty claim waved away and City ‘keeper Mark McNulty had been called on to deny Michael Duffy from close range — John Caulfield was forced into another change, as Colm Horgan was forced off with an injury, requiring Garry Comerford to come off the bench and take up position on the left flank while Griffin to moved to the right-full berth.

Dundalk had come flying out of the traps, applying concerted early pressure on the Cork goal, some of the Oriel faithful even prematurely celebrating in the 16th minute when, deceiving the eye, a low Michael Duffy drive rippled the wrong side of the City netting.

With the home side the dominant attacking force, Cork’s first real chance of turning the tables came in the 33rd minute but, from a promising position, set-piece specialist Kevin O’Connor couldn’t get his free-kick on target.

And given the home side’s pace and penetration, especially down City’s vulnerable right side, it was no surprise when, in the 38th minute, the visitors cracked, their tormentor-in-chief Michael Duffy claiming the breakthrough as, having first laid off the ball, he carried his run into the box and then found himself on the receiving end of a delicious Jamie McGrath cross to power a header into the roof of McNulty’s net.

Another reshuffle after the break for Cork saw O’Connor revert to left-back, Griffin return to his starting position further forward and Alan Bennett come in at centre-half with Conor McCarthy moving to right back as Gary Comerford made way, the sub subbed.

But, for all the musical chairs in the visiting side, there was no alteration in the balance of play as the second half resumed with Dundalk immediately back on top, McNulty soon forced into an excellent save to tip a thumping Pat Hoban header over the bar.

City, as epitomised by the sweat spilled by the industrious Conor McCormack, were working hard but living off scraps in terms of possession and utterly failing to trouble home goalkeeper Gary Rogers, their sole real consolation and source of hope as the game moved into the closing stages that Dundalk still only had one goal to show for their supremacy.

As if wanting to get involved, the veteran Rogers did briefly have Dundalk hearts in mouths with four minutes remaining, when he inexplicably dallied on a back pass and almost allowed Karl Sheppard and Graham Cummins to profit.

But that was really about as close as the Rebels came to mounting a last-ditch salvage operation.

Time added on saw them pump a series of hopeful high balls into the Dundalk box, resulting in a hectic goalmouth scramble or two, but despite the unnecessarily nervy finish for the home supporters, their team held firm to register a deserved win over their old rivals.

DUNDALK:

Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey, McGrath (Mountney 90), Cleary, Murray (Jarvis77), Duffy, Kelly (Dummingan 87), Hoban

CORK CITY:

McNulty, Horgan (Comerford 9, Bennett 45), McLoughlin, McCarthy, K O’Connor (Smith 81), McCormack, Morrissey, Sheppard, Buckley, Griffin, Cummins

Referee: Paul McLaughlin (Donegal)

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