DUNDALK kept the pressure on league leaders Wanderers with a hard-fought win in Coolmine on Saturday.
The hosts were looking to kick start their season after a disappointing run of results, but Dundalk were equally determined to close the gap on Wanderers, who weren't playing until Sunday.
Ene Fa'atau's men put the home defence under pressure straight away when John Smith found a hole to put the Dublin outfit on the back foot. Dundalk soon had a penalty five metres out from the Coolmine line when the referee judged that Coolmine players went off their feet at the ruck following a clever kick through from Isaia Petelo.
Dundalk opted for the line out which was well won, and allowed the backs to run a training ground move resulting in Petelo crossing over for a well worked try. Ultan Murphy converted.
Over the next ten minutes Murphy and Coolmine's out-half Donal Crotty exchanged a number of penalties to leave it 13-6 to Dundalk. Coolmine were unlucky not to score a try following an excellent break from their scrum-half, but Dundalk's defence held out well and they soon had their second try of the match when Jonathan Williams orchestrated another backline move which saw Owen McNally cross the whitewash. Again Murphy added the extras to make it 20-6 as half-time approached.
Dundalk seemed to be defending comfortably but their work was undone when on a turnover ball they tried to counter-attack only for a Coolmine player to intercept a pass and score under the posts which Crotty converted to cut the edficit to 20-13 at half time.
There was no doubt that Coolmine had their tails up and playing in front of a large crowd could sense an upset was on the cards. The second-half started similar to the first half but this time it was hooker Jonathan Gray who found a gap and he went on a barging run bringing play up to half-way.
Dundalk retained possession for a number of phases before releasing McNally out wide who got over for his second try. Murphy converted and it seemed like Dundalk would push on for the bonus point fourth try. However the next 10 minutes were pretty scrappy with neither team able to dominate the game and there was loose kicking from both teams. Slowly Coolmine started to control matters and put pressure on the visitors.
Eventually this pressure paid off and Coolmine got over for their second try which was converted. This left seven between the teams with 15 minutes to go and things got a lot more interesting when Petelo was sin-binned with 10 minutes to go for a dangerous tackle. This lifted the mood and energy throughout the Dublin outfit and Crotty kicked the resulting penalty leaving it 23-27.
From the restart Coolmine regained possession and started to stretch Dundalk's defence from side to side. Dundalk's spirit and resolve shone through and they made tackle after tackle which eventually resulted in Coolmine knocking the ball forward.
From the scrum Dundalk were able to send the ball down field and a great kick, chase and tackle by James Shields give Dundalk a five-metre lineout. For the last five minutes Dundalk were camped on the Coolmine line but were unable to get the bonus point try.
Dundalk departed the capital with mixed emotions, disappointed not to have secured the bonus point but happy to have won again in a game they could have easily lost. Best for Dundalk were Smith, Gray and Brendan Hadden up front while Petelo and McNally were the pick of the backs. Next up for Dundalk is Portadown away in the quarter-final of the AIL Cup this Saturday.
DUNDALK: U. Murphy, R'O Hagan, I. Petelo, MJ McKevitt, O. McNally, J. Williams, T. Campbell, J. McConnon, B. Hadden, S. Martin, C. O'Hanlon, M. Bentley, J.Smith, J. Gray, R. Farrell Subs: C. Brannigan, L. Steen, E. Faatau, S. Murphy, J. Shields