Dundalk U19s took their frustration at losing out on the Northern Division title by firing three unanswered goals past a weakened Limerick side at Oriel Park on Saturday.
Due to Finn Harps’ lax regard for rules when it comes to player registration, the opportunity to be crowned Northern Division champions was taken away from the young Lilywhites and it was Limerick who got the backlash through goals from Calvin Murphy, Conor McDonald and Ciaran O’Connor.
The result puts Dundalk top of the Promotion Play-Off Group and manager Martin Connolly believes the blow of losing the Northern Division title has instilled a new determination in his side.
“I think after what happened with Finn Harps, the lads wanted to go out there and prove themselves and they did just that,” said Connolly who admitted his players were “devastated” at losing out on the championship.
“It is tough to take, losing out on the league in a boardroom and not on the pitch because they have been excellent in recent weeks. They have trained well in great numbers and performances in games have been very good.
“I think what happened with the league has definitely spurred the boys on to win the Qualifying Group and have something to show for the work they have put in.”
It was all Dundalk on Saturday with Kevin Nolan and Georgie Poynton controlling everything in the middle of the park.
Conor McDonald was first to bring a save out of Paul O’Leary and the Limerick goalkeeper then showed neat reflexes to palm Poynton’s close range attempt away.
McDonald continued to have efforts of his own denied by last gasp interventions before O’Leary dived full length to his right to save a pinpoint Poynton volley but Dundalk would not be denied long and, after 29 minutes, had the opener they deserved.
Frank Osadebe fed Calvin Murphy on the left and he played a smooth give and go with Matondo down the left, taking the return in his stride before rolling the ball inside on to his right foot and planting it firmly into the far corner, capping an excellent team move.
The home side started the second-half with the same intent and Craig Doherty showed their intentions by lining one up from range. He was unlucky to see it skim the top of the crossbar.
Shane Walsh and Craig Pentony went close for their respective sides as the half wore on.
Matondo was then denied a wonder goal with 15 minutes to go when the ball sat up at the perfect height for him to meet it with a dipping volley that rattled the bottom of the bar and onto the line before bouncing to safety.
Dundalk’s task was made a little easier with five minutes to go when Paudie O’Connor was sent off for the Munstermen after appearing to catch McGowan in the face as they tangled for the ball, picking up his second yellow card in the process.
From there, things fell to pieces for Limerick as McDonald curled in a cute corner a minute later that flew towards the far corner and despite O’Leary getting a hand to it and scrambling to keep it out, the ball had crossed the line and left ‘Chippy’ celebrating a superb strike.
However, his manager was not so sure about giving him the glory, laughing: “I think there is three of them claiming it! It was a bit of a bizarre goal and from what I saw of it, I would probably give it as an own goal to the goalkeeper.”
The Lilywhites compounded Limerick’s misery with two minutes left when a perfect cross was met by a thumping diving header from O’Connor.
For Connolly, the win, rather than the manner of it, was what he was most pleased with.
“I am very happy with the win, probably not so much about the performance. Limerick were missing a number of lads and it took us a while to get going but I thought we did deserve to win it. We have not been as impressive as in previous weeks but are happy with a win nonetheless.”
DUNDALK U19: Ryan Davies, Manuel Kaguako, Paul Finnegan, Frank Osadebe, Calvin Murphy; Kevin Nolan (Padraig McGowan 65), Georgie Poynton; Craig Doherty (Craig Pentony 60), Conor McDonald, Marfide Matando (Dylan O’Hanlon 80); Ciaran O’Connor. Unused subs: Caolan Reilly, Cormac Boyle, Johnny Connolly (GK).
LIMERICK U19: Paul O’Leary; AJ O’Connor, Michael Guerin, Paudie O’Connor, Conor Maguire; Shane Walsh, Val Feeney, Mark Hoban, Ross Fitzgerald; Sean McSweeney, Ross Mann. Unused sub: Jack Lynch (GK).