If Dundalk fans could pick one player from the club’s history to take to the field for Friday night’s title decider with Cork City, the odds would be heavily stacked in Tom McNulty getting the nod.
Nobody loved the final day of the season more than ‘Scottie’. The tenacious midfielder scored the winning goal that secured Turlough O’Connor’s Dundalk side the title, against Cork City, in Turner’s Cross back in 1991.
Four years later, he was on the scoresheet again, getting Dundalk’s first goal in the 2-0 win over Galway United at Oriel Park as Dermot Keely’s unfancied side nicked the title from under the noses of Derry City and Shelbourne.
If that wasn’t enough, McNulty was also involved in the finale to the 1993 season, his lone goal ending Bohemians’ title hopes at Oriel Park.
The Lilywhites legend spoke to The Dundalk Democrat ahead of this Friday’s title decider between his old club and the Leesiders and, inevitably, the conversation started with his memories of the events that unfolded at Turner’s Cross on April 18, 1991.
The scenario? Cork City and Dundalk sat level on points at the top of the table with 50 points apiece. Dundalk had a better goal difference than Noel O’Mahony’s side but the League of Ireland ruled that a play-off would take place if the match ended in a draw.
“I remember the build up to the game and all we spoke about was winning it,” recalled McNulty.
“Turlough O’Connor was very positive and he pulled us all in after training and told us we were going to win the league. There was no negativity whatsoever, we knew we were going to do it.”
The Dundalk team departed Clarke Station on the morning of the game, a private carriage taking them to their destination in the ‘Peoples Republic’.
Twelve thousand people welcomed the two sides at Turner’s Cross but the game proved to be a dour affair with little attractive football on offer.
“One of my biggest memories of the day was our tackling,” said McNulty. “Our challenges were ferocious and we completely outmuscled Cork.”
The defining moment came in the 73rd minute, securing McNulty legendary status at the club.
“I think it was Mick Shelley who broke up a Cork attack,” he recalled. “The ball ended with Gino Lawless and he nutmegged Mick Conroy in the middle of the park before playing me in and I managed to get in and score.”
The goal was enough to give a Dundalk side, made up of hugely talented players, the title.
“It was the best Dundalk team I’ve ever played in,” said McNulty. “Alan O’Neill kept 23 clean sheets in 33 league games, Peter Hanrahan scored 18 goals and then you had the likes of myself, Gino, Martin Lawlor, James Coll and Ronnie Murphy in the team. Real characters.”
Twenty-three years on, McNulty is hoping that the current Dundalk team can take their place in the annals of history. Only a victory will do on Friday night and McNulty believes they will get it.
“It will be a great occasion for the players and they shouldn’t be nervous. There is a league title at stake and they should get out and go about their business in the right way from the very start.
“There’s a place in the history books up for grabs. These players can go down as heroes forever if they win the title. You look at Patrick Hoban, who has scored 20 league goals this season, and it would be criminal if he didn’t end up with a league winners medal. These players need to win it, it’s the best way to be remembered by the fans.
“If I was playing then I would definitely make the most of it,” he concluded.
Indeeding he would.