Seán Hoare of Dundalk FC and Cork City's Gearóíd Morrissey. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
It’s said that contempt is bred from a sense of over-familiarity - an observation which is all too relevant to Friday night’s top-of-the-table clash at Turner’s Cross. (KO: 7:15pm)
Cork City’s hold on the league crown is gradually loosening, it appears, even if they can provide some resistance to Dundalk FC’s seemingly steadfast march towards the Premier Division crown by levelling the season’s head-to-head record with a win.
Has this rivalry surpassed matches with Shamrock Rovers in Dundalk fans’ reasoning? Probably not, but there is an intensity to the ongoing battles for supremacy which is comparable to former clashes of the Old Firm, where the winner of the end-of-season tie generally got the edge in the title race.
Regardless of Friday night’s result, Dundalk will sit in pole position, with at least three points more, a superior goal difference and Tuesday night’s game with Derry City in-hand. But there is a sense among the couple of hundred travelling to Leeside that this could not only be pivotal to dictating the destination of the championship spoils, rather it may determine the course of the rivalry for the foreseeable future.
With Dundalk’s financial muscle and generally settled core, accompanying the murmurings of discontent relating to John Caulfield’s leadership of Cork, feelings which have only multiplied in significance in the aftermath of last week’s 4-2 drubbing by Bohemians, the league may lose some of its competitiveness, at the top end anyhow.
A premature diagnosis, perhaps, though anticipation of winning Friday’s fixture is much higher than prior to any of the meetings since Dundalk last prevailed at the Curragh Road venue, six meetings and three years ago.
Defeat for the Munster men would be a seventh (league) of the campaign - the most in a single season since Caulfield took the reins in November 2013 - while it would practically rubberstamp Dundalk’s coronation as champions for a 13th time, in the process of which they will likely shatter whatever records there are - goals scored, points won, etc.
Last week’s defeat at Dalymount Park will surely provide something of an incentive for the hosts ahead of their sold-out clash.
The champions’ hopes of two-in-a-row has a pulse, however faint, and by putting in an improved display they may be able to veil over their poor showings and general stutter since the debacle that was their European campaign.
But the momentum lies with the Lilywhites, whose focus on landing not only the title but avenging the Aviva agonies of the two years past with an FAI Cup win is stern, and it remains difficult to see how they won’t earn some portion of the result.
Whereas a point would be satisfactory for Dundalk, Cork really need all three.
Nevertheless, not one to take things for granted, Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny wants the full return to provide his side with a buffer which he feels they deserve.
“To be in the situation that we’re in, we had three scoreless draws in our first four games, shows that we have shown great quality from that period onwards,” he told The Democrat.
“We probably deserve to be further ahead if I’m being honest, but we have to put in a big performance in every game between now and the end of the season. The players’ attitude has been excellent, we have to continue this great grain of form.”
However, a facet lacking from their game for large parts of the year has been a ruthlessness, and that ability to put teams away at an early juncture - a hallmark of the all-conquering 2015 side.
Ultimately, though, Dundalk are in the same place as they were three years ago, with the league title in their hands and on course for the FAI Cup final. But they must bare their teeth and put Cork away this weekend, ideally in the fashion they disposed of Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght during the summer.
And if they do it could prove a turning point on a number of fronts, but most importantly, nudge the Lilywhites further down the glory path.