Tiarnan Mulvenna was Dundalk’s last action hero as the substitute emerged from the bench to smash home a 90th minute winner to give the Lilywhites all three points against Derry City at the Brandywell last Friday night.
The 24-year-old raced onto a wonderful reverse pass from Eoghan Osborne to slide a crisp finish past Ger Doherty to give Stephen Kenny’s side three crucial points that puts them right back in the picture for a top four finish.
At that stage it looked like Dundalk would have to settle for a point as some wayward finishing and stubborn Derry defending looked like it would leave the teams sharing the points. But, not for the first time this season, Kenny’s side were rewarded for their perseverance.
The Lilywhites made the trip north missing a number of regulars with Stephen O’Donnell suspended and Keith Ward, John Mountney and Mark Rossiter all watching on from the stands injured.
Andy Boyle skippered the side while Eoghan Osborne made just his first start in seven games. New signings Jordan Keegan and Fran McCaffrey had to make do with a place on the bench.
Derry City named former Dundalk captain Simon Madden in their starting line-up. Marc Griffin and Michael Rafter, another two former Lilywhites, started on the bench.
Madden was a model of consistency in his time at Oriel Park before he was famously discarded by Sean McCaffrey at the start of last season.
And the Tallaght born full-back was involved in the opening chance of the game after three minutes, overlapping Patrick McEleney only to fire straight at Peter Cherrie.
Dundalk settled to the task and held the upper hand for the majority of the first-half from that point on.
Top scorer Pat Hoban made a welcome return after suspension and he caused the Candystripes back four plenty of headaches, particularly with his running in behind City left-back Shane McEleney.
Hoban left McEleney in his wake after 11 minutes with a wonderful dummy on the right but his ball into the danger zone had too much purchase for the incoming Darren Meenan.
The former Mervue United man was in again in similar circumstances two minutes later. Hoban’s clip to the far post found Kurtis Byrne but he could only smack his effort back across the face of goal.
Meenan was deployed in a more central role than usual, just off Hoban, and the diminutive attacker played a key role in Dundalk’s grip of things in the middle of the park.
He was next to try his luck as Dundalk pressed for an opener, seeing his shot blocked. Richie Towell’s venomous follow up was well pushed around his right hand post by Ger Doherty.
Derry lacked any sort of spark but they were almost gifted a lead on the 20 minute mark when Peter Cherrie kicked the ball straight at Rory Patterson. The Scot, however, redeemed himself with a good save.
The visitors remained disciplined and offered Derry little encouragement. Dundalk’s concentration was highlighted by the fact that it was 25 minutes before they conceded their first free-kick of the game.
Candystripes boss Declan Devine responded to his side’s lack of imagination by introducing Rafter for Kevin Deery in the 38th minute. And the move almost had an instant result as Rafter drove at the Dundalk back four before driving a shot just wide off the upright.
Dundalk finished the half with a change in personnel themselves as Stephen McDonnell replaced the injured Chris Shields who had fared well before having to limp off with a groin injury.
Devine would have been angry with his side’s showing in the first-half and they opened the second period like a team that had just been stung by harsh words.
They threatened as early as the 46th minute when Patrick Kavanagh’s cross found Michael Duffy as the far post but Andy Boyle made a last ditch block to prevent the youngster from scoring.
Seconds later and Dundalk were left off the hook again. Duffy caught John Sullivan napping to latch onto Patterson’s pass and he rifled a shot against the angle of bar and post.
The game settled into a tactical battle after that as both sides cancelled each other out for prolonged periods.
Dundalk found a second wind as the game approached the final 20 minutes and they almost went in front with 17 minutes to go. Towell burst his way to the byline and pulled the ball back for Meenan but his goalbound shot was blocked by Ryan McBride.
The visitors continued to knock on the door but Kurtis Byrne, Darren Meenan and Towell all sent efforts off target as the game approached the death.
It looked like the visitors would have to settle for a point but they were rewarded for their endeavours when Mulvenna popped up - just three minutes after being sent on from the bench - to grab his 6th goal of the season and his 5th as a substitute - with a cool finish.