Cork City's Alan Bennett and Patrick Hoban of Dundalk FC. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan
The phrase ‘something has to give’ has rarely seemed more apt. Neither Dundalk FC or Cork City have dropped a point from their last 15 league matches combined.
Dundalk’s eight-match winning streak in the league – the joint longest such run in Stephen Kenny’s five-and-a-half-year tenure – has coincided with the Leesiders’ own seven successive victories, meaning the in-form Lilywhites have merely kept pace at the top, as opposed to forging a lead of their own.
Amidst a domestic mid-season break, attentions turned to European adventures to come over the last week but given how tight things are at the top of the division, the battle for supremacy at the summit is key for future Euro hopes.
When the sides meet at Oriel Park this Friday (Kick off, 7.35pm), the match presents an opportunity to put some daylight between the teams. Both previous meetings this term – an Oriel win for Dundalk and a narrow home win at Turner’s Cross – have virtually been all that has separated the sides.
What a fillip it would be for Kenny and his team to head into July with a win against John Caulfield’s team. Four straight title battles, countless big clashes and three FAI Cup finals in three years hasn’t saturated the rivalry. It’s served to intensify it.
Dundalk have hit 36 goals in 10 matches since Cork shut them out at the end of April but goals against Cork tend to be harder to come by. Pat Hoban’s winner earlier this term, when he capitalised on Mark McNulty’s clanger, was a lucky break.
There is no question Dundalk rely on their talismanic forward to score both great goals and the not so much. You make your own luck of course, and have to take the chance when it comes your way.
Michael Duffy and Robbie Benson stand on the cusp of double figures for the season and the threat they carry on Friday – from wide and centrally - will likely have an impact on where the points reside come 10pm.
Cork’s home win in the second round of games meant the Dundalk victory stands out as the exception, not the rule over the last two years. The balance in that head-to-head dominance must be redressed.
Usually prolific, Dundalk have managed just five goals in their last 12 encounters with Cork.
For Friday night’s game, Kenny remains without long term injured duo Stephen O’Donnell and John Mountney but Karolis Chvedukas will likely be back in contention after a minor ankle injury.
Following substitute appearances in the wins over Limerick and Derry City, Sean Gannon continues to push for a first start since his rib injury.
In opposition team news, Johnny Dunleavy may be involved having returned to training from a long layoff.
The encounter, as is the norm when these two collide, will be broadcast live on RTE2. Far be it for anyone to suggest that Peter Collins and co are a bad omen, but on the last six occasions the national broadcaster has shown this particular fixture, the Lilywhites have failed to win, losing five times and drawing once.
The sole victory in that time came in front of the eirSport cameras, the very same that beamed historic results against BATE Borisov, AZ Alkmaar and Maccabi Tel Aviv around Europe two seaons ago now.
Dylan Connolly, Kristian Adorjan and Jamie McGrath have all, to varying degrees, made cases for inclusion over the last number of games and Mountney’s injury means the manager will have one fewer player to disappoint come the announcement of the starting team.
Before the Munster men face Dundalk’s old foes Legia Warsaw in the Champions League qualifiers, they will take on Shamrock Rovers.
Stephen Bradley’s side beat them 3-0 in the last meeting and while admittedly that result is an outlier in relation to their wider form, optimists at this end of the country will hope Cork have their focus on Poland.
If so, the next two weeks – and perhaps the month of July as a whole – could be the defining period in another right-to-the-wire title race.