DUNDALK's faint hopes of reeling in league leaders Wanderers were all but extinguished in Kildare on Saturday afternoon as Cill Dara battled to a hard-fought victory over Ene Fa'atau's side.
Despite all the recent bad weather the pitch was in excellent condition and it was a perfect afternoon for rugby.
Dundalk created a great chance right straight from the kick-off when Mike Bentley collected the ball before off-loading to Robert Shields, who tried to keep the move going, but he juggled the ball forward.
The visitors continued in that vein, playing all the rugby in the first half with the aid of a strong breeze on their backs. Ultan Murphy missed his first penalty attempt of the afternoon but soon kicked one from just outside the 22 to make amends.
Cill Dara responded straightaway with a penalty of their own, before Murphy added a monstrous kick from just outside the 10-metre line to make it 6-3.
Dundalk were very much in control and created a number of half-chances, but a lack of discipline and some poor decision-making let them down.
Against the run of play on a Dundalk scrum, Cill Dara managed to turn over the ball and break down the blindside to out-pace the Dundalk covering defence and score a try in the corner which went unconverted.
Dundalk responded with another Murphy penalty before the break to leave them 9-8 up at half-time, but with such a strong wind behind Cill Dara in the second half, the away side must have wondered if a one-point lead was going to be enough.
The second period was similar to the first, with the visitors playing the better rugby, but Cill Dara's defence seemed to cope comfortably with everything that was thrown at them.
The Kildare men came more and more into the game with the breeze on their backs and their scrum, which dominated throughout the match, was causing Dundalk all sorts of problems.
In fact their second try came from another such scrum. Again it was a Dundalk feed, but Cill Dara pressure turned over the ball which allowed a quick counter-attack, resulting in the Cill Dara centre scoring in the corner. The try was converted, leaving the score at 15-9 with 20 minutes to go.
Although Cill Dara were in the lead the try seemed to unnerve them, which allowed Dundalk to dominate the remainder of the match.
One of the positives of the game was Dundalk's lineout, with great work put in by Johnny Gray, Chris O'Hanlon and Bentley. This gave the Dundalk backs ample ball to attack with, but they were unable to find a breakthrough, with final passes and offloading errors letting them down.
Dundalk applied pressure right up until the final minute, but the Cill Dara defence held on for a deserved win and Dundalk will be hugely disappointed with the result which all but ends their title challenge.
The scrums will be a particular cause for concern for Fa'atau, with two soft tries and a huge amount of possession surrendered.
Nevertheless, the coach and O'Hanlon, along with Petelo stood out for Dundalk who are away to Coolmine next weekend.
DUNDALK: J Shields, S Murphy, I Petelo, MJ McKevitt, R Shields, U Murphy, T Campbell, E Faatau, S Martin, J McConnon, C O'Hanlon, M Bentley, J Smith, J Gray, C Brannigan. Subs: C Williams, S Arrowsmith, L Steen, B Hadden, S McGee.