Dundalk closing in on the title

A week can be a long time in football and this week in the Airtricity League has been no different. Stephen Kenny and his Dundalk squad have played three games in a short space of time and the pressure was on for no slip ups, despite a back log of games, not to blow their lead at the top of the table. How many times over the years have we seen clubs suffer because of a fixture congestion. Dundalk knew any slip up would let Cork back in with a real chance of becoming champions. The cherry on top of the Airtricity League cake this week was the fact that Dundalk played Cork City last Tuesday night. The three games Dundalk were about to play could decide the outcome of this seasons Airtricity League and Stephen Kenny knew it.

Up first for Kenny’s men was a home game against Sligo Rovers, a certain three points before the game you would have imagined. But when referee Ben Connolly blew for full time on the night, you could hear the shock sink in all around the league. Sligo had come to the champions back yard and won three nil, an unbelievable scoreline. Goals from Campion, Roberts and Cretaro bagged all three points for the visitors and this result blew the title race wide open. It was a night when Cork closed to within a point of the leaders as they won five nil in Galway. The men from Cork went to Galway and tore the home side apart, they were doing everything possible to claw Dundalk back and with these two results they set it up lovely for the big clash between themselves and Dundalk in Oriel Park on Tuesday night.

Going into the match of the season,  Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny dropped a bombshell before the game with his team selection. Stephen had decided to drop goalkeeper Gary Rogers who lately had been at fault for a few goals and the manager had decided it was time for a change. The decision to drop Rogers was huge and it showed the pressure Cork were now applying for Kenny to have changed things. Dundalk were still reeling from the Sligo result going into this game and Cork must have really fancied their chances. Although the game was shown on live TV, there was a full house in Oriel Park and you could feel the tension from the home fans as this was one game they did not want to lose. They did not need to be nervous for to long as in the seventh minute Dundalk,s star man Darryl Horgan scored from a free kick which went in off the Cork City goalkeeper Mark McNulty, in fairness the Cork keeper should have saved it. If Dundalk,s first goal was a touch lucky their second was world class. Horgan picked up the ball in his own half and ran at the Cork defence and unleashed a thunderous shot that flew past McNulty in the Cork goal, it truly was a magnificent goal. I am sure Martin O’Neill who was watching from the stands had to be impressed by Horgan,s performance on the night. Cork pulled a goal back after fifty six minutes when substitute Mark O’Sullivan grabbed the Leesiders a lifeline, but with a defence well marshalled by Brian Gartland there was no way Cork were getting anything from the game. The win for Dundalk showed the determination they had to hold onto their title, it also showed great character from a squad that had been heavily beaten by Sligo.

The third game of the week in this trilogy for Dundalk was an away trip to Tallaght to face Shamrock Rovers. This could have been a very difficult game for Stephen Kenny’s men as Rovers themselves were hunting for a European spot. It was strange to call it an away game for Dundalk as they have been using Tallaght for their home ground in this years Europa League. On the night everything clicked and Dundalk ran out three nil winners, a result they thoroughly deserved. Like most clubs at the moment Rovers struggled to compete with Dundalk on the night and really were second best. Second half goals from Gartland, Massey and Kilduff sealed all three points and this result puts Dundalk within touching distance of the title. One bad note on the night for Stephen Kenny was an injury to influential player Stephen O’Donnell, he had to leave the field of play with a tight hamstring and only time will tell how long he will be out of action.

So there you have it, another week gone and Dundalk are only three victories away from another title. At the time of putting this article together they sit four points clear at the top, with games running out for Cork to close the gap. Unless Dundalk have an implosion now, which I do not expect, they are coming around the final bend and waving one hand to the crowd and deservedly so.