Cork City's Shane Griffin and Jamie McGrath of Dundalk FC at Oriel Park tonight. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Dundalk FC 2-1 Cork City
Maybe the arguments can finally stop. Those, of course, being over who the best team in the land actually is. Dundalk are top of the table and well worthy of it. End of story.
The noise upon Man of the Match Patrick Hoban's injury-time winner was something else. Has there ever been a roar in Oriel Park like it? Well, perhaps, but maybe not since Stephen O'Donnell's opener in the 2014 title decider against the Rebels. Ronan Murray put the ball across two minutes into stoppage time and the Galwegian, for the 20th time this season, was there to knock it to the net. Oriel Park went bonkers. There remains a suggestion that it was an own goal, but we'll go with the hero Hoban.
Krisztián Adorján - outspoken in his desire to remain with the Lilywhites beyond the end of July - with the greatest moment of his short Dundalk career to date, had put his side ahead within 30 seconds of the second half kicking-off. A neat reverse pass from Michael Duffy set the Hungarian away inside the area and he made no mistake, booting beneath Mark McNulty with precision.
City, however, returned serve midway through the second period as substitute Josh O'Hanlon beat the offside trap to turn the ball past Gary Rogers after Dundalk failed to fully clear a corner. It was an equaliser, on the balance of play, that was scarcely merited.
Yet John Caulfield's men, being the awkward customers they are, could have gone in front and things could have transpired alternatively. Karl Sheppard - a man who takes his fair share of abuse when visiting these parts - cannoned the outside of the post as the Rebels enjoyed their best streak of the match.
The match official, Robert Harvey, had a poor night and was largely responsible for the stop-start nature of an overall scrappy encounter. Time and time again the Leesiders were let away with foul play, while decisions the other way were of the softer nature game-over. Dundalk's free-tally mounted to 18 by full-time.
The opening minutes apart, Stephen Kenny's men were on top, though labouring to pour gaps in a well-drilled visiting rear-guard, which centre-back Alan Bennett marshalled superbly. That said, the City defender was fortunate to escape the wrath of the referee just minutes after his side's concession. Hoban was fouled at least twice in the play - firstly by McLoughlin who attempted to haul the forward back as he rampaged along the Stand side, before Bennett tripped and elbowed Hoban in the same instance. Harvey waved play on as the striker sprawled on the surface. The local patrons were far from pleased and made their feelings known.
It wasn't the first time the home support were left surprised on the night. Kenny's opting to leave defender Daniel Cleary out of the starting XI, with Brian Gartland and Seán Hoare paired instead, was unexpected. Dylan Connolly was the other to drop to the bench from the win over Derry City a fortnight ago, with Seán Gannon and Adorján the benefactors.
Late in the affair, Hoban - who was at the heart of the action in the second half - nodded over as the Lilywhites attacked the Carrick Road end desperately. But, on a night where there was a water break in either half, the champions looked set to hold on - getting the job done being their motto as assistant manager John Cotter made abundantly clear pre-match.
But they didn't get the job done. The Hobanator saw to that. Dundalk are top, end of.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Seán Gannon, Brian Gartland, Seán Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson; Jamie McGrath (Dylan Connolly 76), Krisztián Adorján (Ronan Murray 71), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Daniel Cleary, Dean Jarvis, Karolis Chvedukas, Marco Tagbajumi
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Colm Horgan, Alan Bennett, Seán McLoughlin, Shane Griffin; Jimmy Keohane (Karl Sheppard 62), Conor McCormack, Gearóid Morrissey; Barry McNamee, Graham Cummins (Josh O'Hanlon 62), Kieran Sadlier (Garry Buckley 89)
Subs not used: Peter Cherrie (gk), Danny Kane, Aaron Barry, Conor McCarthy
Referee: Robert Harvey (Dublin)