Dundalk FC head coach Vinny Perth (right) with players Daniel Kelly and Patrick Hoban. (Pic: Sportsfile)
It was outside Turner’s Cross after last year’s early-season, 1-0 defeat to Cork City that a Dundalk FC player made a telling statement to your writer.
Cork were the double winners, having finally stepped out of the Lilywhites’ shadow, and had displayed champion-like qualities at the beginning of their title defence.
A match which Dundalk had enjoyed the better of, going close on a couple of occasions without possessing the lethal finishing touch that would become a trait later in the campaign, was ultimately decided by Gearóid Morrissey’s deflected drive, which gave Gary Rogers no chance of saving in front of the Shed End.
“We’ll take everything off them this year, everything,” was the verdict of a key team-member as the rain fell on the players as they made their way to the bus.
It stuck with me and I reminded him of it every so often until his prophecy became reality last November, the last game of the Stephen Kenny regime seeing the club crowned league and FAI Cup winners for the second time in four years.
Towards the end of the 2018 season, another statement was made to myself, this time from a not-so-local colleague. He said that the Dundalk/Cork battle at the top was “over” due to the Rebels’ intention to cut back on their budget capacity for the present campaign.
That claim looks to be fairly true, too, albeit we’re not even halfway through the fixtures’ programme. But with the Leesiders sitting eighth, a full 15 points behind Dundalk, it’s hard to see them launching a sustained attack to propel themselves into championship contention. Having lost seven games already, it would take a fall-off from those at the top and a virtually 100 percent record from John Cotter’s team from now to October for them to endanger the trophy which currently resides at Oriel Park.
However, despite their underwhelming year to date, Cork are rarely caught wanting when Dundalk roll in. After all, only for Michael Duffy’s goal in March’s meeting, the Munster men could easily have taken a point away from the Carrick Road.
The reality is that Cork always provide a stiff obstacle, particularly when they’re facing such a familiar foe. There are enough medal winners in the Rebels’ line-up who won’t want to suffer a home humiliation against Dundalk - as they did towards the end of last season when Chris Shields scored the sole goal.
Pardoning the clichés, ’keeper Rogers’ assessment of this Friday’s tussle is precisely accurate. He said: “It’s never an easy game against Cork. Obviously, they’ve been our arch rivals for a number of seasons now. Regardless of league positions, we can expect nothing easy down there.”
Word has it that Conor McCormack has returned to form over the last couple of weeks, the terrier-like midfielder being so key to the Cork cause. But doesn’t he just always lift his performance when Dundalk are in opposition, as the likes of Karl Sheppard, Garry Buckley and Gearóid Morrissey are also prone to.
Whatever way the game pans out, the hosts certainly won’t be found wanting in central areas - they rarely are - but it’s hard to imagine them having the necessary quality offensively to really keep Dundalk on edge.
This, on the other hand, is where the champions are lush, with Michael Duffy - who often found it tough when Cork had Steven Beattie marking him - entering the clash on the back of a terrific display at Dalymount Park.
Following the victory over Bohemians, Vinny Perth’s words were interesting: “The old attitude of winning games and that it’s enough, it’s not, there is no ceiling for some of these players and we have to understand that.
“I think there’s another level in some of them and I’m going to push them. I fall out with them more now than I probably ever have because I want them to be more.”
His reign really got underway with a President’s Cup triumph at Friday night’s venue. He says he wants “more” from his players, but he’s certain to want ‘more’ Turner’s Cross success, too, and there’s no time like the present.
VERDICT: Dundalk, 2-0.
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