One of the fiercest club rivalries of recent seasons will once more take centre-stage at Oriel Park tomorrow night with champions Dundalk FC hosting the main threat to their crown, Cork City, with only a single-point separating the sides.
Dundalk will look to regain both their four-point lead at the top of the table and their midas touch against Cork City when they square-off with the Leesiders at Oriel Park on Tuesday evening.
The Lilywhites had a rare night to forget at the Carrick Road venue on Saturday following their 3-0 humiliation by Sligo Rovers. It was Dundalk’s heaviest home defeat under Stephen Kenny and also their biggest reversal at Oriel Park since the 2012 FAI Cup semi-final loss to St. Patrick’s Athletic.
To their credit though, Sligo were excellent on the night while Dundalk struggled to find breach a solemn Bit O’Red rear-guard. Their performance was very flat, this despite the home fans being louder than they had been for quite some time.
Gary Rogers’ early howler set the tone for a very frustrating evening as Cork’s 5-0 drubbing of Galway United compounded the Lilywhites’ woes even further.
It all means that only a single-point now separates the perennial challengers for the SSE Airtricity League title ahead of another episode of their intense rivalry in the north-east tomorrow night.
Dundalk may yet rue the myriad of late opportunities that they spurned on Saturday evening, some of which were shocking. With the Rebels having ruthlessly dismantled Galway by five goals, there was an incredible six-goal swing in terms of the scoring differences between the sides.
Cork now sit with a goal difference of +39, while the champions sit two behind in what could well be a telling statistic before the season concludes, especially with Dundalk being in the midst of a well-documented fixture marathon.
Ahead of a game versus the Rebels, which bares all of the hall-marks of Dundalk’s game with St. Pat’s at Richmond Park in September 2013, manager Stephen Kenny told LMFM:
“We’re going to have to dig deep on Tuesday. It’s a big game but it’s one that we’re well capable of winning. We have been here before and over the past couple of years in the big games we have always rose to the occasion and put in a performance that merited a victory.”
If you were to consider all of the vibes coming out of Leeside at the moment, you would swear that it was Cork City who were coming up the M1 as league leaders. Everyone associated with the Rebels appear convinced that this will be the year that City eventually reign in Dundalk at the division’s summit.
Having suffered heart-break after heart-break, always seeming to play second-fiddle to the Lilywhites over the past two seasons, Cork seem primed to capitalise upon Dundalk’s fixture pile-up and win the title for the first time since 2005.
Saturday night’s 5-0 hammering of the Tribesmen was their clearest signal of intent yet. The Leesiders emphatically capitalised upon a rare slip-up by Stephen Kenny’s men as they took three steps closer to the three-in-a-row chasing Lilywhites.
City are now unbeaten in their last 10 league outings, while they have also won eight of their last nine in all competitions. With Sean Maguire in top goal-scoring form having skipped ahead of David McMillan in the race for the ‘golden boot’, the Rebels are hitting top-form at just the right time.
Cork have also ended Dundalk’s hoodoo over them having beaten the Louthmen on each meeting this season, including a landmark 1-0 win over the Lilywhites at tomorrow night’s venue in March in what was their first league win at Oriel Park since April 2009.
Everything points to a Cork City triumph at Oriel tomorrow night – momentum, belief and the fact that they have been able to focus on league matters since exiting Europe.
However, if there is one thing that Cork have learned from their recent experiences of Dundalk it is that they are very dangerous, especially on the back of a bad result such as last Saturday’s. It promises to be a thrilling contest.
Rebels boss John Caulfield spoke with the media today and stressed that his side are going to Dundalk to win the match.
“We are going there to win the match. We need to be focused and ready to go from the off. There is a real will to win in this group and it is a great position to be in. We need to focus ourselves and be ready.”
Dundalk have not beaten Cork City in 90 minutes since their 2-1 win over the Rebels at Turner’s Cross in April last year, seven games ago.
If the champions fail to score it will be the first time since April-May 2012 that they haven’t scored in successive league matches at home.
Dundalk have got three former Cork City players in their squad – Daryl Horgan, Ciaran Kilduff and captain Stephen O’Donnell. Cork’s Sean Maguire was a double winner with the Lilywhites last season.
Dundalk FC 13/10; Draw 9/4; Cork City 2/1.
Dundalk FC 1-0 Cork City
Doubtful: Robbie Benson, Patrick McEleney
Injured: John Dunleavy, Alan Smith, Gearóid Morrissey