Dundalk FC’s Chris Shields shoots the only goal of Friday night’s Premier Division encounter against Cork City at Turner’s Cross. (Pic: Doug Minihane)
September 21, 2018: The country’s two best teams go head-to-head for the fourth time this season. The score stands at 2-1 in Dundalk’s favour. A little over 90 minutes played and Cork City are now even further behind. Chris Shields’ third minute goal is enough to give Dundalk a first win at the venue in four seasons. There have been draws in that time, including the one last year, which helped Dundalk stall Cork’s victory march. That Monday night fixture was meant to witness the crowning of the champions; but that eventually came, and along with an FAI Cup win had Leeside claiming all of the season’s bragging rights. As so often happens at these fixtures, Cork City manager, John Caulfield, features in this latest Friday night. Johnno is told to go to the stand if he wants to watch the second half.
January 8, 1995: Cork City come to Oriel looking for the two points that would keep them on top of the Premier Division table. They’ve a game in hand, but Shamrock Rovers and Derry City are very close to them, and a number of other teams, including Dundalk, are also in the hunt. Dundalk field new signing, Mick Byrne. Cork win 3-1, and a certain John Caulfield scores one of the goals and creates another. Defeat ends a promising Dundalk run. The Democrat reports that while he should have been awarded a penalty, Mick Byrne “was a big disappointment and, on Sunday’s display, it is hard to see why he was signed at all”.
Let’s bring the 1995 story to its conclusion. Cork City did a wobbly after their Oriel win, running up a sequence of defeats. They lost the yellow jersey, and, indeed, found themselves back in the peleton. In contrast, Dundalk regained their composure, and with Mick Byrne playing his part, Dermot Keely’s men - along with Derry and Shelbourne - were right in the hunt with one series of matches remaining.
It may be 23 years ago, but those who were at Oriel for the final match with Galway remember it as if it were yesterday. Not only was a home win needed, other results would have to go the ‘right’ way if Dundalk were to claim the title. On a dramatic Sunday, April 23, Dundalk won, Derry could only succeed in beating eccentric Athlone goalie, Shane Curran, once when they needed to do it at least twice, and Shels drew. Dundalk were champions.
There’ll be no such dramatics this season. The title cannot be clinched tonight, but it surely will before long. Four league titles in five seasons? It’s never been like that before.