Ian Foster was Dundalk FC's manager when they hammered Shamrock Rovers in 2010. (Pic: Sportsfile)
Just where on earth did that come from? Dundalk 5, Shamrock Rovers 1. I’ve (Gary McLaughlin, reporter) repeated the scoreline many times, but it still doesn’t seem right.
But it is and luckily for Michael O’Neill’s Shamrock Rovers, it could have been a lot more as Dundalk made the league leaders look like bottom of the table fodder in what was an historic night to remember at Oriel Park.
As if it needed it, there was so much added spice going into this game. Dundalk were buoyed by their win against Drogheda, Rovers’ last defeat in the league came against Dundalk and then there was the small issue of the return of Neale Fenn.
O’Neill made a bold choice, playing the ‘retired’ striker from the start and as you can imagine, he got the reaction he anticipated.
He was not applauded like a returning legend, instead he was jeered and teased so much that it made Robbie Doyle’s reception earlier this year look tame, which is not an easy feat.
It took the Lilywhites just three minutes to carve open the champions-elect and after that, they never looked back.
Oriel erupted as Tom Miller got his first senior goal. Ross Gaynor whipped in an inviting cross towards the back post and Miller planted his header downwards to the net.
And then Rovers crumbled, right in front of the eyes of the 2,100 crowd. Championship dreams turned to nightmares as Dundalk took the game right to them.
Faz Kudozovic showed his class to make it two. Dundalk’s fans were in full song and they couldn’t believe as they went 3-0 ahead on 27 minutes. Dean Bennett once again put into the waiting feet of Kudozovic, who in turn found Wayne Hatswell at the back post. He knocked it into the path of Matthew Tipton who got the slightest touch to knock it past Alan Mannus. Rovers were dead on their feet, their heads spinning. 3-0.
Fenn showed the first sign of his frustration, throwing the ball in Hatswell’s face when his old assistant manager was on his knees at the halfway line.
In typical League of Ireland fashion, he escaped without a booking from the referee. Dundalk’s 11 players gave Fenn a rough time, a reminder that he did not do the right thing. But Dundalk made Fenn suffer the right way, knocking in a fourth on the stroke of half-time.
A searching ball by Gaynor wrong-footed Aidan Price at the heart of the Rovers defence. Tipton judged the flight of the ball perfectly and took his time, smashing it into the roof of the net for his second and Dundalk’s fourth.
Gary Twigg pulled one back for Rovers in the second period, but it was of no real significance as, if Dundalk fans were not in carnival mood, then on 85 minutes they certainly were as Tipton put the icing on the cake, lifting the ball over Mannus from close range to seal his hat-trick and condemn Rovers to a humiliating 5-1 defeat.
Fans sang ‘I’d rather have a Tipton than a Fenn’. After this display, I think Michael O’Neill thought the same, especially after he hauled off the ineffective Fenn on the hour mark.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Simon Madden, Garry Breen, Liam Burns, Wayne Hatswell; Daniel Kearns, Tom Miller, Dean Bennett, Ross Gaynor; Faz Kudozovic, Matthew Tipton
Subs: Shaun Kelly for Kearns (81), Steven Lennon for Tipton (87), Ciarán McGuigan, Jonny Breen and Stephen McDonnell (not used)
Rovers won the league title, while Dundalk finished mid-table in Ian Foster’s first campaign in charge.