Seán Hoare celebrates after putting Dundalk FC in front during Monday night's SSE Airtricity League Premier Division encounter with Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park. (Pic: Sportsfile)
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Dundalk FC 3-2 Shamrock Rovers
Michael Duffy’s wonder-goal put the cherry on top of a record-breaking night for Dundalk FC as they clinched their fifth SSE Airtricity League Premier Division in six seasons and their first under Vinny Perth with a 3-2 win over Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Monday night.
Rovers had led the title race by 13 points back in mid-April, but since then, Dundalk have embarked on a now 29-match unbeaten run in domestic competition.
That is an ever-extending new club record, and they added another one to the history books here as they made it 23 games undefeated in the league, eclipsing their previous best run from the early ‘90s.
The Hoops came into the game 12 points adrift of the leaders and they started on the front foot in a bid to delay the party. They could have broken the deadlock, too, but Roberto Lopes blasted over when well placed.
Dundalk were patient in their approach and they snatched the opener close to the half-hour when Gary O’Neill gifted possession to the hosts which forced a corner. Duffy delivered with his 16th assist of the season as Seán Hoare rose to fire a bullet header.
The champions made it 2-0 in first half injury-time with a brilliant move as Patrick McEleney crossed for Robbie Benson who connected with a stunning header which flew past Alan Mannus.
Aaron Greene reduced the deficit with a clinical finish 10 minutes after the restart, but then Duffy unleashed a 25-yard rocket which appeared to put the game beyond Rovers. Still, there was life in the Hoops and they responded through Aaron McEneff’s deflected effort.
They threw the kitchen sink at Dundalk late on, and they gave the home support a couple of frights in injury-time as McEneff was denied by Rogers before Seán Gannon cleared Lopes’ header off the line.
For the game, Perth had made three changes to the team that edged past Waterford 72 hours earlier, as Hoare, Dane Massey and McEleney came in. They replaced Andy Boyle, who was not in the matchday squad, Dean Jarvis and match-winner from the RSC Daniel Kelly.
Ex-Lilywhite Ronan Finn was one of three fresh faces in the Shamrock Rovers lineup, as Stephen Bradley looked for a reaction after Friday’s disappointing draw with St. Patrick’s Athletic. McEneff and O’Neill also came in, as Ethan Boyle, Greg Bolger and Dylan Watts dropped to the bench.
Before kick-off, there was a minute’s applause for former Dundalk star Noel Melvin who passed away last week at a young age.
Rovers, wearing their pink jersey, started brightly, but they did not seriously threaten until the quarter-hour. Jack Byrne’s corner found Graham Burke at the back post and he picked out Lopes in the centre, only for the defender to blast over the open target from close range.
A foul by Daniel Cleary on O’Neill then led to some tempers boiling over, with Cleary, Burke and Patrick Hoban all picking up yellow cards as referee Paul McLaughlin kept control on the game.
Dundalk hit the front in the 28th minute. O’Neill gifted possession to them close to his own box with the former UCD midfielder recovering to block the ball behind for a corner, which Duffy delivered onto the head of Hoare to hammer home.
It was 2-0 in the only added minute at the end of the half. McEleney swung in a delightful left-footed cross which was met by a stunning header from Benson, who will have enjoyed this even more having endured such a frustrating season through injury.
Rovers pulled a goal back in the 55th minute when Seán Kavanagh’s well-placed pass picked out Greene and he finished well over Rogers. They went close to an equaliser on 58 minutes when Byrne lifted the ball into the box where Greene controlled well but he could not hit the target.
Dundalk restored their two-goal advantage a minute later when Duffy let fly with a magnificent 25-yard strike which lifted the roof at Oriel Park.
Massey almost made it 4-1 but his strike came back off the post, and then Rovers made it 3-2 when McEneff’s strike from the edge of the box took a deflection on the way in.
Dundalk went close to a killer goal on 85 minutes when substitutes Seán Murray and Daniel Kelly combined, but the latter’s drilled shot was touched behind by Mannus at his near post.
Rovers threw everything at Dundalk in the final moments, with McEneff’s strike met by a super save from Rogers, who was then relieved to see Gannon clear Lopes’ header off the line, as the Louth men were crowned champions for the 14th time.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Seán Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Seán Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Seán Murray 68); Jamie McGrath, Patrick McEleney (Daniel Kelly 78), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (Georgie Kelly 87)
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (gk), Brian Gartland, Dean Jarvis, Cameron Dummigan
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Lee Grace, Roberto Lopes, Daniel Lafferty; Ronan Finn, Aaron McEneff, Gary O’Neill (Brandon Kavanagh 79), Seán Kavanagh; Jack Byrne, Graham Burke (Dylan Watts 75), Aaron Greene
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Ethan Boyle, Greg Bolger, Neil Farrugia, Graham Cummins
Referee: Paul McLaughlin (Monaghan)
Attendance: 3,634 (official)
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.