Lilies relieved as Oriel bogey is laid to rest
THE sight of a beaming Stephen Kenny celebrating in front of the main stand spoke a thousand words as Dundalk broke their Oriel Park duck against Cork City on Friday night.
It's true that the vagaries of the 2013 fixture list presented the Lilywhites with a hugely difficult run of home fixtures, but a failure to beat the Leesiders would have been a serious psychological blow.
Securing a first home win of the season was a massive weight off the shoulders, hence the usually placid Kenny's passionate reaction towards the supporters after the final whistle. And with the bottom four clubs all coming to the Carrick Road in the next series of fixtures there is now the prospect of Dundalk putting some kind of run together in front of their own fans.
With 75 minutes played it did seem that they might have to wait longer for that sought-after success, though, as the game remained deadlocked at 0-0 following some poor finishing from the Lilywhites.
But Cork City's habit of conceding costly late goals came back to haunt them once again and Dundalk's victory was all the more enjoyable because - incredibly - none of the other top eight teams managed to win at the weekend.
Both teams took time to settle in front of the RTE cameras and eventually it was Dundalk who threatened first on nine minutes, Richie Towell curling the ball nar-
rowly wide from an acute angle after fine wing play from the Under-21 international.
It was the Leesiders who then took the game by the scruff of the neck, though, with central midfielders Shane Duggan and particularly Gerard Morrissey dictating the play, and after off-target attempts from Colin Healy and Daryl Horgan, Danny Furlong had the game's first shot on target in the 22nd minute, Peter Cherrie saving comfortably.
Healy screamed for a penalty on 26 as a corner kick struck Andy Boyle on the hand, but there was no intention on the centre-half's part.
Some kamikaze play involving Cork keeper Mark McNulty, who was a bag of nerves in the first half, presented Vinny Faherty with a sight of goal, but he couldn't find a way past the relieved netminder.
Faherty was then guilty of a glaring miss when John Sullivan arrowed a fantastic cross in from close to the corner flag and the big striker sent a rising header over the bar from six yards.
And on 34 minutes it was Faherty again who passed up a great chance, dinking the ball over the top after excellent wing play from John Mountney (pictured left after scoring his goal).
Keith Ward then had a speculative 35-yard shot pushed round the post unconvincingly by McNulty, before Dundalk were out of luck as Towell chipped over the keeper and into the net, only to be controversially ruled offside.
It remained goal-less at half-time, but Dundalk remained patient and they came back out with renewed vigour, Boyle nodding over from a Ward corner and Stephen O'Donnell sending a dipping header just too high after the Cork defence failed to deal with a Towell shot.
A rare Cork attack yielded a great chance for Daryl Kavanagh, but he dragged his effort well wide when there was time to take a touch first, while Ward was just off target from long range at the end of a good move involving Towell and Tiarnan Mulvenna.
With the game into the final quarter and still no breakthrough, the hard-working Faherty was withdrawn and replaced by Patrick Hoban, and the change did seem to revitalise Dundalk as the youngster quickly got involved.
But another great chance went begging when Mulvenna latched onto a hopeful through-ball by Mark Rossiter, but never really got the ball under control and eventually sent it bobbling just wide.
Dundalk's patience was finally rewarded on 76 minutes with a goal out of nothing as Sullivan sent a throw in-field towards Mountney, the ball up nicely and the Mayo native didn't hesitate as he rifled an angled left-footed shot past McNulty.
With confidence now oozing from every player, the Lilywhites sensed another goal. Only for an over-hit cross from Ward, Hoban would have had a tap-in, and Ward's next delivery from the left wing deceived McNulty and bounced off the crossbar before being scrambled clear.
Daryl Horgan had Cork's first goal attempt in half an hour on 84 minutes, but again Cherrie was untroubled and Dundalk eventually wrapped up victory in the second minute of stoppage time.
Healy, who had already been booked, fouled Hoban just outside the penalty area, and when Ward rattled the crossbar from the resulting free kick the ever-alert Hoban followed up to score with a header.
Cue an enthusiastic huddled celebration from the management team in front of the dugout, and with a two-goal cushion any prospect of Stephen Kenny coming off the Cork City bench to ruin his namesake's day and create a stirring headline was finally extinguished!
Referee Tuite played a further three minutes of injury time, during which Cherrie finally had a save of note to make from a long-range strike by substitute Denis Behan, the Cork striker's effort sandwiching two others from Ward and Hoban, both of which had to be dealt with by McNulty.
Overall, it wasn't Dundalk's best performance of the season by any means, but they have a potency in the final third that is always likely to result in goals, while a second consecutive clean sheet also bodes well for the stiffer challenges that lie ahead.