Dundalk took another huge step towards their third league title on the trot by dishing out a 3-0 drubbing to Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.
Stephen Kenny’s side controlled the game right from the off but they had to wait until the 53rd minute to get their noses in front, Brian Gartland popping up with yet another vital strike.
Another defender, left-back Dane Massey, doubled the advantage nine minutes later after a sublime piece of football before substitute Ciaran Kilduff put the cap on another wonderful performance by the champions with 19 minutes to go.
The result maintains Dundalk’s four point lead over Cork City at the top of the SSE Airtricity League table with just four games remaining.
Rovers came into the game looking to bounce back from their derby defeat to Bohemians a week earlier but they had to plan without Patrick Cregg, who was sent off in the 1-0 loss at Dalymount Park.
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny named the same starting XI that beat Cork City three nights earlier with Gabriel Sava retaining his place between the posts. Robbie Benson and Ciaran Kilduff both returned from injury to take their place on the bench but Sean Gannon again missed out with a calf injury.
Kick-off was delayed slightly after the Rovers supporters lit a number of flares in the east stand when the teams made their way onto the pitch. And when the smoke cleared it was Dundalk who completely dominated the first-half with poor finishing the only reason they didn’t take a lead going into the break.
Their first of 10 goal attempts in the opening half arrived after three minutes when Ronan Finn’s cute ball found the angled run of David McMillan but Barry Murphy was quick off his line to get a touch on the striker’s effort and divert it wide for a corner.
Kenny lost Stephen O’Donnell in the 13th minute, the Lilywhites skipper limping off with a suspected hamstring injury. He was replaced by Chris Shields, who has revelled in Dundalk’s European games in Tallaght this season, and the 25-year old dictated play from the middle of the park.
The champions should have pulled in front with the best opening of the half six minutes later.
McMillan got up above Simon Madden to knock a John Mountney cross into the path of Patrick McEleney but the Derry man blazed over from six-yards despite having nobody in a green and white shirt anywhere near him.
It signalled the beginning of a really good spell for Dundalk with McMillan seeing a left footed drive going across the face of the goal after he skipped past Madden. McMillan then pounced on a slack pass by Dave Webster to set Daryl Horgan away on the inside left but Murphy was equal to the winger’s effort.
Rovers found themselves pinned in for large periods and Dane Massey opted against pulling the trigger when the goal opened up. The Dundalk full-back then managed to bundle his way through a number of challenges on the byline only to see his pathway to goal blocked at the vital moment.
Rovers inched towards the interval still on level terms and a couple of meaty challenges lifted the subdued home crowd before referee Paul McLaughlin brought the half to a close.
Dundalk continued where they left off at the beginning of the second-half with McMillan getting his feet wrong from a decent Mountney delivery in the 47th minute.
Murphy produced another fine stop five minutes later. McEleney was at his mercurial best again, picking the ball up outside the area, leaving Gary McCabe for dead before teeing up Horgan who saw his powerful drive tipped over the top.
Dundalk made the breakthrough from the subsequent corner. Mountney’s delivery was headed downwards by Gartland and although Murphy did well to parry, the big defender was on hand to prod home his fourth goal in his last six games.
Ciaran Kilduff replaced McMillan before play restarted and the substitute played a huge part in the insurance goal in the 62nd minute.
It was the result of some sublime football, Gartland cushioning a Mountney pass before scooping the ball over the Rovers backline to Kilduff, the former Rovers striker’s ball across goal tapped into an empty net by Dane Massey.
Kilduff was Dundalk’s hero in Tallaght two weeks ago when he scored the winner against Maccabi Tel Aviv and he hit the same net again here to put the result to bed. David O’Connor was caught in possession by Mountney and Finn took control, switching the ball inside for Kilduff to find the bottom corner with a scuffed left footed finish.
Rovers offered little throughout with Gartland hacking a Dean Clarke shot away after a rare moment of penetration by the home side in the 75th minute.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Barry Murphy; Simon Madden, David O’Connor, Sean Heaney, Trevor Clarke; David Webster, Gary McCabe; Dean Clarke (Luke Kiely 62), Gary Shaw, Brandon Miele (James Doona 65); Sean Boyd.
DUNDALK: Gabriel Sava; Alan Keane, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Ronan Finn, Stephen O’Donnell (Chris Shields 13); John Mountney, Patrick McEleney (Dean Shiels 77), Daryl Horgan; David McMillan (Ciaran Kilduff 55).
REFEREE: Paul McLaughlin.