Cork City will go to Oriel Park next week knowing that one point will make them champions.
This might have been a far from a vintage performance but John Caulfield’s men did all that was required of them by beating Bohemians in a pulsating Turner’s Cross to ensure the title race would go to the final night of the season.
And after Dundalk were held to a draw in Bray, it means it’s John Caulfield’s men who top the table for the first time since April and who now require only a draw to next Friday to lift the title.
“'The crowd were unbelievable. Our performances have been bringing the fans back this year. We're delighted to give them something back,” said goalscorer Dennehy. “We've a strong bond. Pressure makes diamonds, and it's something to enjoy out on a football pitch.”
Bohemians finished this game with nine men but, for a long and testing first half City had made the going tough for themselves, until a freak Billy Dennehy goal right on the stroke of half-time made all the difference.
Before kick off even the weather had briefly played ball, the torrential rain of earlier in the day clearing to help swell a feverish crowd to a record attendance for the season of 6,209.
And even as the rain returned with a vengeance, The Shed had cause to erupt inside the first couple of minutes, not because of anything happening in front of them, but in response to the remarkable news from Bray that the Seagulls had taken the lead against Dundalk.
In wet and blustery conditions, there wasn’t much else to cheer about in the scrappy opening exchanges at the Cross, hurried passes and clumsy touches hinting at an understandable nervousness in the Cork ranks on what was the most high stakes game at the ground since the 2005 title decider against Derry.
And the home fans’ own nerves weren’t helped either when ‘keeper Mark McNulty, under pressure from Karl Moore, dallied with the ball at his feet before kicking a panicky clearance into touch.
Bohs, by contrast, playing with the freedom of a side with nothing to lose, were in the ascendancy after half an hour of play, a series of fouls around the middle of the pitch giving the Dublin side plenty of opportunities to get balls into the Cork box.
Their best chance to open the deadlock came at the end of a fine passage of play minutes before half-time, Dinny Corcoran heading a tempting cross wide of the Cork goal.
But City immediately replied with a great move, Colin Healy and John Dunleavy involved in a fluent build-up before Mark O’Sullivan was foiled low at his near post by keeper Dean Delaney.
And then, just seconds later, as the fourth official was signalling time added on, came the blue moon moment which sent Turner’s Cross wild, Billy Dennehy’s huge, looping, wind-assisted free-kick from way out on the right, somehow evading friend and foe, before dropping under the crossbar and into the net.
City emerged for the second half with real attacking purpose, the Bohs goal leading a charmed life as, first, Dan Murray and then John O’Flynn from the rebound, failed to find the net. Then it was Billy Dennehy’s turn to come agonisingly close, his low bending free-kick flashing just wide of the far post. And, as Cork intensified the pressure, Dennehy was again left holding his head in his hands, as he fired another effort just off target after being put in by Mark O’ Sullivan.
In the 63rd minute, the task of recovery became even harder for the visitors as Dave Mulcahy received a second yellow card for a foul on John Kavanagh, the Cork full-back who, when he wasn’t pushing forward, was otherwise engaged in a terrific battle with tricky Bohs wide man Karl Moore.
Even against 10 men and — with the news now in that Dundalk had levelled things up in Bray — how the anxious locals would have loved it if Dean Delaney hadn’t done well to keep out a Colin Healy blockbuster with five minutes remaining on the clock.
Instead, City had to withstand a sequence of long throws into their box in the dying moments — Dan Murray returning them with interest – before referee Paul McLaughlin showed Bohs sub Stephen Best a straight red for a heavy challenge on Garry Buckley.
And that was the last significant act before the whistle finally blew to a roar and the Cork City players could deservedly lap up the acclaim of the Rebel Army — before turning their attention to that games of games in Oriel Park next week.
CORK CITY: McNulty, McSweeney, Murray, D Dennehy, Kavanagh, B Dennehy Dunleavy, Healy, Buckley, O’Sullivan, O’Flynn (O’ Shea 66)
BOHEMIANS: Delaney, Beattie, Mulcahy, Murphy, Memery, Walsh (Devanney 59, Buckley (Evans 81), Moore, Wearen, Byrne (Best 81), Corcoran
Referee: Paul McLaughlin
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