The deluge of rain in Louth stopped just in time for kick-off but there was no opening of the floodgates of goals and no separating the league’s top two sides. A scrappy 1-1 draw keeps Dundalk top of the league by six points over chasing Cork.
This game, while tightly contested, wasn’t the explosive affair some had hoped a first versus second match might provide. Had this been a grass surface, there mightn’t have been any game at all as the heavens opened all morning and afternoon. What unfolded was almost pathetic fallacy; a game where quality football was rare and the dynamic between the top two failed to change – all in all a bit of a damp squib.
Dundalk started brightly. The midweek game in the Champions League did seem to be taking its toll on a side which made just one change – Chris Shields starting in the place of Stephen O’ Donnell – as there was something of lethargy about the Lilywhites in places. That said, their training pace seemed to be enough as they zipped the ball around on the wet surface to make Cork work.
With ten minutes played, Meenan produced a sweet lob for Brian Gartland who looked certain to head home but for the impingement of Alan Bennett. Referee Neil Doyle had no choice but to point to the spot. Richie Towell slotted the ball neatly into the right of the away goal while Mark McNulty dived the other way.
Although Karl Shepard almost capitalised on an under hit Brian Gartland back-pass to in the very next passage of play, it seemed like the wheels were coming off the Rebel Army carriage when John Caulfield was sent to the stand for his reaction to a free kick awarded to the home side. Dundalk were cruising and David McMillian could have doubled their lead with a header on 21mins but his glancing effort lacked the required accuracy.
City came more into the game on the half hour mark and got a real foothold in the middle of the park. After a spell of Rebel dominance, Kevin O’Connor swung in a free kick from fifty yards which Mark O’Sullivan pounced on to restore parity.
On the cusp of half time and against the run of play, Dundalk were handed a curious opportunity to get back into the game via an indirect free kick inside the Leesider’s box. Mark McNulty picked up a back-pass from Dan Murray but Towell’s 43rd minute effort was cleared by the disputably advancing Rebel wall.
The second half was characterised by a similar scrappiness, passes went awry and possession was as often given away as won in patches. Although the Lilywhites did impose themselves on the game a lot more, they just didn’t create enough chances to merit winning it. At the other end, Mark O’Sullivan looked threatening on the counter but he had little more success in getting his shots away. Clear opportunities were at a premium for both teams in the second half.
John Mountney replaced David McMillian as Dundalk’s target man near the hour mark and he was involved in a real talking point with twenty minutes to play; he careered into the Cork box from the left and was certainly barged from behind by the recovering Alan Bennett. The game wasn’t to have a second penalty as Neil Doyle ushered on the goal kick.
Cork rode their luck as moments later, Michael McSweeney nearly ripped off Daryl Horgan’s shirt in a bid to stop him progressing down the left. Not a minute later, Massey forayed down the same wing and made it into the box and by-line before being bundled onto the ground by Michael McSweeney and Alan Bennett. Risky stuff indeed – but another goal kick was awarded.
It was a night when either side could have made significant progress in title retention or usurping, but with ten minutes remaining Dundalk just couldn’t get their shots away and Cork seemed content to absorb the champion’s efforts rather than risk opening up too much perusing a winner. A draw was the fairest result on the whole.
The travelling fans certainly seemed the happier with the result. This draw represents their best league result in six outings against the Lilywhites. John Caulfield made a return to the field of play at the final whistle with his arms aloft to the away support in a pose befitting of a victor.
The draw means both sides will have to wait until Friday to see if they can gain an advantage on the other.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle (capt), Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Richie Towell; Darren Meenan, Ronan Finn (Stephen O’Donnell 61), Daryl Horgan (Jake Kelly 83); David McMillan (John Mountney 54).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Kurtis Byrne, Shane Grimes, Paddy Barrett.
Booked: Shields (32)
Sent off: None.
Cork City FC: Mark McNulty; John Dunleavy (Michael McSweeney 64), Alan Bennett, Dan Murray (capt), Kevin O’Connor; Gavin Holohan (Danny Morrissey 74), Garry Buckley, Liam Miller (Colon Healy 88), Steven Beattie, Karl Sheppard; Mark O’Sullivan.
Subs not used: Alan Smith, John O’Flynn, Liam Kearney, Stephen Folan.
Booked: Bennett (10), McNulty (44), Holohan (58),McSweeney (72), Miller (78), Buckley (90+2)
Sent off: John Caulfield
Referee: Neil Doyle
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Mark O’ Sullivan (Cork)