Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
Dundalk were back to their very best on Friday night at Oriel Park, recording an easy 5-0 win over Finn Harps as they marched on towards what looks like will be another SSE Airtricity League title.
The best indication of just how difficult a night this was for Harps was the fact their goalkeeper Mark McGinley was by far their star performer, but even he couldn’t keep the rampant Lilywhites at bay.
Following their exit from the Europa League on Tuesday night at Tallaght Stadium against Slovan Bratislava, the Lilywhites made no fewer than six changes from that disappointing 3-1 defeat.
Cameron Dummigan, Brian Gartland and Sean Hoare all took their place in defence, while Daniel Kelly, Patrick McEleney and Georgie Kelly came into the attack in a much-changed Dundalk side.
Harps were in Tallaght themselves last week and drafted in Jacob Borg, Keith Cowan, Mikey Place and Nathan Boyle, all of whom didn’t start in their 1-0 defeat to Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup.
Before the match, there was a minute’s applause for Jimmy Dainty, who sadly passed away recently.
A true Dundalk great, he was a huge part of Jim McLaughlin’s all-conquering team of the late 1970s, winning every domestic honour as well as helping them reach the last 16 of the European Cup.
The class of 2019 haven’t fared too badly either, but it took them a long time to seriously threaten a Harps side that have won their last three league matches in what was a dull enough opening period.
The game’s first real chance of note didn’t occur until the half-hour mark when McEleney produced a bit of magic, dinking a long-range effort that went beyond McGinley before clipping the crossbar.
That chance seemed to have woken Dundalk up and after that, Daniel Kelly showed some decent skill before Sean Murray unleashed a trademark shot which sailed just wide of McGinley’s near post.
The inevitable happened not long after that as Vinny Perth’s side took the lead inside 36 minutes when Daniel Kelly capitalised on some slack Finn Harps defending before finishing past McGinley.
Harps sought an immediate response and Ascroft had an effort deflected wide from close range before Place and then Ascroft again both had their efforts blocked from the resulting corner.
However, the side from Ballybofey were reduced to ten men five minutes before the break when defender Mark Russell was given a second yellow card for what was a cynical foul on Daniel Kelly.
As the rain began to pour on Harps chances at Oriel, Dundalk went close to doubling their advantage when Murray’s free-kick was met by Hoare, who went close but his header was saved McGinley.
Dundalk sensed blood as the second half began and McGinley had to be on hand to save from Georgie Kelly not long before the Finn Harps goalkeeper saved once again from McEleney’s piledriver effort.
McGinley was certainly earning his crust at this point and really could not be faulted at all. He saved well from Murray, that was after he had taken a shot following Michael Duffy’s cross from the left.
Dundalk started to run riot after that and Georgie Kelly took advantage of a bad Josh Smith mistake to make it two before McEleney added a third, finding the net after a good cross from Dummigan.
The Lilywhites weren’t finished yet and substitute Jamie McGrath got Dundalk’s fourth, latching onto the excellent McEleney’s neat pass before getting himself into the box and firing past McGinley.
McEleney capped off a fine display with just a minute remaining of normal time, delicately dinking the ball over the unlucky McGinley as Dundalk completed their rout over a hapless Harps outfit.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Cameron Dummigan, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields (John Mountney 73), Sean Murray; Daniel Kelly, Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy (Jamie McGrath 65); Georgie Kelly (Patrick Hoban 71).
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey, Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle.
Booked: Chris Shields (71).
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Jacob Borg, Daniel O’Reilly, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd, Mark Russell; Harry Ascroft (Raffaele Cretaro 78), Ruairi Harkin (Tony McNamee 66), Gareth Harkin; Nathan Boyle, Mikey Place (Josh Smith 46).
Subs not used: Peter Burke, Colm Deasy, Shaun Doherty, Liam Walsh.
Booked: Mark Russell (17 + 40).
Sent off: Mark Russell (40).
Referee: Graham Kelly.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Patrick McEleney (Dundalk).