Any notions that Dundalk would have one eye on their impending title showdown with St Patrick’s Athletic were blown away as the Lilywhites marched triumphantly into the semi-finals of the FAI Cup thanks to a 5-1 demolition of Shelbourne at Tolka Park on Friday night.
Stephen Kenny’s men ruthlessly disposed of their dismal opponents, taking a five goal lead into the half-time break before they, understandably, took their foot off the gas in the second-half.
A double from Richie Towell, backed up with efforts from Andy Boyle, Patrick Hoban and a David Beckham-esque corker from Kurtis Byrne left the home side dead on their feet even before referee Padraigh Sutton’s half-time whistle had sounded. Lee Murtagh pulled one back for the home side in the second-half.
This was Dundalk’s 8th win in succession; a remarkable feat at this stage of the season and it means that the Lilywhites are just one win away from a trip to the Aviva Stadium for the FAI Cup final on November 3.
Star of the show, yet again, was Richie Towell.
The former Celtic and Hibernians midfielder only played 45 minutes before retiring at the break to be wrapped in cotton wool ahead of the Pat’s game but he was head and shoulders above everybody on the pitch..
Playing just off the front two, he set the tone of the game with a couple of early runs that had alarm bells ringing in the Shelbourne back four and his first goal and assist for Patrick Hoban’s strike will live long in the memory.
The Inchicore native has been instrumental in Dundalk’s dream voyage to date. A model of consistency, he has also, crucially, started adding goals just as we approach the business end of the season. This double took his tally to five for the campaign - four of those coming the last four games - and he was the unanimous vote in the press box for the FAI Ford Man of the Match award.
Kenny was forced to shuffle his pack for the trip to Drumcondra. Suspension ruled Dane Massey and captain Stephen O’Donnell out while Tiarnan Mulvenna and John Mountney dropped to the bench after lacklustre displays against Drogheda United five days earlier.
John Sullivan and Brian Gartland returned to the back four with John Dillon and Kurtis Byrne also handed places in the starting XI.
And it was that duo who combined for the first real chance of the game after five minutes. After a neat exchange of passes, Byrne was clattered by Cronin but at stage he had laid the ball off for Towell who shot well off target
Towell revelled in his more advanced role and he was in again two minutes later. Hoban’s hopeful flick fell into his path but the no 17’s lob went over the bar.
The pressure eventually told and Dundalk scored their first after 13 minutes.
Darren Meenan’s cross from the left was completely missed by a Shels defender. It fell to Dillon on the right of the area and he showed great composure to pick out Towell who found the top right hand corner with a beautiful curling effort.
The visitors continued to press and in the 19th minute Patrick Hoban released Meenan who cut in from the left and unleashed a devilish drive which was well saved by Burdon.
Shels fans who thought they had survived the danger should have remembered the events of the league game at the same venue four weeks earlier.
That night Meenan provided the supply line for both of Dundalk’s goals and it was a similar story here; his corner from the right met by a full blooded header from Andy Boyle which whistled past Burdon.
Shels desperately tried to get a foothold in the game and Dean Kelly saw a header easily saved by Peter Cherrie before he blazed over from eight yards after being set up by Lee Murtagh.
That proved to be a brief interlude however and Dundalk simply blew the Reds away for the remainder of the half.
Patrick Hoban and Chris Shields both saw efforts go over the top before the outstanding Towell set up Hoban for the third in the 34th minute.
The Dundalk centre-forward started the move, rising high to knock the ball into the surging Towell’s path. He left a number of Shels defenders in his wake and just as Burdon advanced to close him down he audaciously flicked the ball back for Hoban to hammer into the bottom corner.
That looked like it would win the Goal of the Night award but that honour went to Kurtis Byrne in the 44th minute.
Burdon’s clearance fell straight to the feet of the striker and, despite being a yard inside the Shelbourne half, he still had the technique and accuracy to send the ball flying into the net from all of 50-yards. Goal of the Night without a doubt and certainly a contender for Goal of the Season.
The Dundalk fans in attendance were still celebrating when the Lilywhites hit a fifth on the stroke of half-time.
John Sullivan’s cross from the right landed perfectly for Towell and he guided his header past Burdon to book Dundalk’s place in the semi-final.
Kenny replaced Towell at half-time; the influential 22-year-old picking up a knock after colliding with Burdon in the latter stages of the first-half. John Mountney entered the fray to partner Shields in midfield.
The home supporters who remained for the second-half were given something to applaud when Shels pulled a goal back in the 51st minute after Lee Murtagh broke through the offside trap to guide the ball home.
Johnny McDonnell would have been happy with his side’s response and they almost had a second in the 75th minute only for Shields to clear a Sean Brennan effort off the line before Cherrie tipped a Darren Tinnelly effort over the top.
Dreams of a double are very much alive. All eyes now turn to Dundalk’s next trip to the capital.