A Dáire O’Connor goal on the stroke of half time was enough for Cork City to end their SSE Airtricity League home campaign on a high with a gutsy win over old rivals and champions Dundalk at Turner’s Cross tonight.
When the fixtures for the season were released last year, both sets of supporters would have been thinking that this potentially could have been a league decider. Instead, City went into the game a whopping 49 points behind the champions, such has been the gulf in class between the two rivals this season.
However, City boss Neale Fenn would have been impressed with the shift his side put in last night as they battled bravely against a Dundalk side, who were never going to get it easy in Cork, despite the game effectively being a dead-rubber.
After finally securing their Premier Division survival with a 3-2 win over UCD last week, Fenn made two changes to the side who started at the same venue. In came Garry Buckley and Ronan Hurley for Shane Griffin and Joel Coustrain.
Vinny Perth’s champions lost their first league game since April, when going down to Bohemians last week at Dalymount. Perth had all his big hitters back for this one however, with top scorer Pat Hoban leading the line again.
Dundalk were almost gifted an opener in the third minute when some dreadful City defending let Daniel Kelly in on goal. When Kelly squared the ball to Hoban, Conor McCarthy nudged the Dundalk striker off the ball inside the six yard box but referee Robert Hennessy overruled Hoban’s penalty claims.
The closest the visitors came in a poor first half was when Alec Byrne did well to put the ball out for a corner to deny Sean Murray after some nice play down the left involving Hoban and Michael Duffy.
Despite dominating possession in the first half, the Lillywhites failed to trouble Tadgh Ryan in the City goal and they were made pay a minute before the break when Ben O’Brien Whitmarsh neatly split the Dundalk defence as he expertly found O’Connor. The former UCD man took the ball in his stride before neatly finishing under the advancing Aaron McCarey, who was getting a rare outing deputising for Gary Rogers.
City had only won three times at home in the league this season before last night and the home fans were dreaming of a fourth during the break after O’Connor, who also scored against UCD last week, gave them something to shout about.
Despite dominating the first half, Dundalk lacked the intensity their manager has demanded all season and he introduced Jamie McGrath for Sean Murray early in the second half in a bid to create more going forward.
And the change almost worked when McGrath found himself one-on-one with Ryan shortly after coming on after a nice pass from Hoban, but the City keeper made a great save to deny the substitute.
Just before that, McCormack had penalty claims turned down when he looked to be upended on the edge of the box by Andy Boyle.
With the FAI Cup final against Shamrock Rovers looming, Perth was keen on avoiding a second defeat on the spin, which could potentially harm his side’s confidence going into the Aviva decider, in which his side are looking to become only the second side to claim a treble of domestic honours.
Ryan saved McGrath’s snapshot low down before tipping Robbie Benson’s effort over his crossbar as Dundalk upped the pace in search of an equaliser. Man of the Match Ryan again came to his side’s rescue 5 minutes before the end when he made a magnificent stop to keep out Dane Massey’s powerful header, before Gannon flashed an effort narrowly wide two minutes later.
Right at the death, Ryan denied Georgie Kelly on the line when it looked like the ball may have crossed the line, as City held out to end their home campaign on a high note.
Ryan, McCormack, McCarthy, Casey, Hurley, D O’Connor, Byrne, Morrissey, Buckley, Sheppard, O’Brien-Whitmarsh (Stokes 83).
McCarey, Gannon, Hoare, Boyle, Massey, D Kelly (G Kelly 77), Shields, Murray (McGrath 56), Benson, Duffy, Hoban.
Referee: R Hennessy (Clare)