Goals from Seanie Maguire, Kevin O’Connor, and Karl Sheppard fired Cork City to a deserved President’s Cup victory in front of 3,100 fans at Turner’s Cross last night.
It was their fifth win in six matches against Dundalk, and this one will sting the league champions.
Dundalk have lost many of their prized assets which inspired last year’s Europa League heroics, with Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle now plying their trade at Preston, while Ronan Finn has joined Shamrock Rovers.
It’s too early to say if Stephen Kenny’s men will be able to overcome such huge losses but there are certainly signs of concern for the Lilywhites, with their opening game against Shamrock Rovers just a week away.
For City, the feelgood factor after last November’s FAI Cup success continues.
President Michael D Higgins was unable to attend the game as he was on a state visit to Cuba. He didn’t miss much in the early stages as the game struggled to find any signs of life.
That changed in the eighth minute, when City keeper McNulty was out smartly to save at the feet of Ciaran Kilduff, after Cork captain Greg Bolger had been robbed in midfield.
City began to find some rhythm and, on 12 minutes Kevin O’Connor’s 20-yard free-kick cleared the Dundalk wall but ’keeper Gabriel Sava got down smartly to save.
Just four minutes later the breakthrough came.
Garry Buckley’s searching aerial ball was badly misjudged by Paddy Barrett, and last season’s league top scorer Maguire took full advantage, the Kilkenny man teasing the centre-back at the edge of the box, showing a quick turn of pace to create a yard of space before firing through the legs of Sava from an acute angle.
Dundalk were struggling as Cork grew in confidence. New City signing Jimmy Keohane did well to beat Dane Massey but Barret managed to deflect his cross out for a corner.
Seconds later and Conor McCormack’s hopeful cross travelled 40 yards and through the legs of Sava but referee Anthony Buttimer saved the goalkeeper’s blushes, disallowed the effort having already deemed Maguire offside.
Maguire’s pace was causing Dundalk all sorts of problems, and it was Barrett bearing the brunt of the pressure. Maguire robbed the defender in the 30th minute but his weak lob didn’t trouble Sava.
Eventually the Lilywhites seemed to wake up.
On 34 minutes Patrick McEleney engineereed a brilliant cross from the left wing, and John Mountney met it perfectly. McNulty dived full stretch to push it around the post.
From the ensuing corner, Brian Gartland’s dangerous header flew narrowly over.
Maguire went close again four minutes before the break but, after rounding Sava, he was unable to find the target.
Dundalk aren’t champions for nothing, and began building momentum in the second half. On 57 minutes Michael Duffy fizzed a ball across the box but no Dundalk player could put a finishing touch on it.
City were catching Dundalk on the break though, and on 68 minutes Barrett was lucky to escape with a yellow card when pulling back Stephen Dooley at the edge of the box.
From the resulting free kick, up stepped Kevin O’Connor to curl the ball into the top left hand corner, Sava left flailing unable to keep it out.
Dundalk huffed and puffed with little end product while on the counter attack City sub Karl Sheppard went close.
In the 89th minute, Kilduff leaving the field on a stretcher after clashing with McNulty, and in the fifth minute of injury time Dundalk’s misery was complete as Karl Sheppard fired in the third.
Bigger games, with far more at stake, lie ahead for both teams in the coming weeks, with champions Dundalk hosting Shamrock Rovers next Friday night while Cork make the long journey to Ballybofey to face Finn Harps.
But Cork have given early warning they are ready to break Dundalk’s dominance.
A minute’s applause was held in advance in memory of Cork City stalwart Noelle Feeney, who passed away earlier this month.
McNulty, Beattie (Griffin 83), Delaney, McCormack, O’Connor, Keohane, Bolger (Sheppard 65), Dooley (McCarthy 90), Morrissey (Ellis 87), Buckley, Maguire.
Sava, Gannon (Vemmmelund 80), Gartland, Barrett, O’Donnell (Clifford 78), Duffy (McGrath 80), Mountney, McEleney, Massey, Kilduff (Ubaezuonu 89), Benson.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved