Premier Division football returned to Tolka Park after a six-year absence — but there was no fairytale homecoming for Shelbourne as they came up just short in an enthralling encounter with Dundalk.
The champions made it two wins from two for the season, but they won’t quickly forget the scare they were given by Ian Morris’ side, who deserved at least a point for their second-half showing.
Set-piece goals from Andy Boyle and Patrick Hoban — all three of the champions goals this season have come from dead balls — put the Lilywhites two goals to the good at the break.
Shels had competed well to that point, and they stormed out of the traps in the second half, but they couldn’t find the clinical touch to add to Gary Deegan’s spectacular strike.
Shelbourne — playing with positive attacking intent as manager Morris partnered Aaron Dobbs with Ciarán Kilduff — had the better of the opening exchanges in front of a sell-out 3,010 crowd.
Dobbs narrowly failed to get his head to a fine delivery from left-full Alex O’Hanlon, while a poor Chris Shields pass forced Greg Sloggett to take a booking for pulling back Dobbs.
Dundalk gradually went through the gears, and a lovely one-touch move had the Shels chasing shadow, and it took a risky last-minute tackle from Deegan to deny Duffy a likely opener.
It wasn’t to matter, as the champions took the lead from the resulting corner, Andy Boyle rising highest to flick Michael Duffy’s corner past Shels keeper Jack Brady.
Shels appeared to learn their lesson, and brought back all 11 men to defend Duffy’s next delivery, though the Derryman soon threatened again with a dipping shot that just cleared the top corner.
It was a half when Shels caused most of their own problems, and Hoban doubled the lead two minutes before half time as he buried a free header from Duffy’s left-wing delivery.
Shels were transformed after the break and deservedly pulled one back when, after Dobb’s shot was deflected behind, Deegan rifled a shot in off the post from the resulting corner.
Sean Hoare was grateful to a generous refereeing decision after mis-hitting his backpass to Gary Rogers, who did brilliantly to deny Kilduff from point-blank range.
Dundalk had chances to seal it and Dane Massey saw his goalbound shot blocked by Daniel O’Reilly, but the withdrawal of Duffy for centre-half Brian Gartland was indicative of their nerves.
Rogers stood strong again to beat away Karl Sheppard’s well-struck effort, and Shields was alert to snuff out Jaze Kabia following a Hoare mistake as Dundalk just about held on.
SHELBOURNE: Brady; Friel, O’Reilly, Byrne, O’Hanlon; Kabia, Deegan (Brennan 74), Poynton (Quinn 71), Sheppard; Dobbs (Farrell 57), Kilduff.
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Hoare, Boyle, Massey; Shields, Flores (Leahy 89), Sloggett; Smith (Kelly 57), Duffy (Gartland 85), Hoban.
Referee: Damien McGraith.