Lilywhites rev up for the cup in fine style
Soccer SSE Aitricity League: Dundalk 3 Limerick 0
While the Limerick team bus broke down on the way to Oriel Park on Friday night, from a Dundalk point of view they are very much back motoring after finally putting their European hangover behind them.
With cup matches on the horizon, Stephen Kenny's side needed to return to winning ways having taken just one point from a possible six since their Champions League defeat to Rosenborg last month.
The Shannonsiders were ideal opposition in that regard. Neil McDonald's side hadn't won a game in July, and while they started well on Friday night, there was little fear of them getting back in the game once Patrick McEleney had opened the scoring with a stunning free kick on 32 minutes.
Both before and after that Dundalk never really had to up the gears to get the job done, but a victory, a clean sheet and three points were all that mattered. While thoughts now will temporarily turn to the cup, it is still important that the side tie down second place in the table and this was an important result in that regard.
There was plenty to be encouraged about as well. While slack defending from the visitors played its part, Friday night was the most threatening Dundalk have been from set pieces for some time and it was no coincidence that the quality of Michael Duffy's deliveries led to both a goal and an assist for Brian Gartland.
While McEleney understandably stole the headlines, it was his fellow Derry man who was the most impressive on the night. Duffy set up at least half a dozen good chances throughout and was perhaps unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself.
More than two-thirds of the way into his debut season at Oriel Park, his performances are now becoming more consistent than they were earlier in the year and with 12 assists now to his credit, that's more than any player managed in the league for Dundalk last season.
Kenny has spoken about already having one eye on next season and if Duffy can build on his current performances then he could be the star man in 2018.
That said, Dundalk won't get things as easy against most sides as they did against Limerick.
While Neil McDonald's men started well and showed good intent, the fact they failed to register a shot on target throughout the game summed up their night.
It was a first half of few chances, with the best two falling to Robbie Benson. The first came on 12 minutes when he latched onto David McMillan's header, only to blaze over on the half-volley.
He then had another big chance 12 minutes later when he met Duffy's corner at the near post, only to flash his header across the face of goal.
Then came the breakthrough on 32 minutes. McEleney's burst forward was halted by David O'Connor just outside the box, with the Derry man stepping up to curl a superb free kick to the top left-hand corner, giving Brendan Clarke no chance.
Dundalk began turning the screw at that point and could have added a second before the break, with Niclas Vemmelund heading wide after Clarke had missed a punch clear on 36 minutes, and McMillan missing the ball completely after being teed up by Duffy a minute later.
That pressure continued into the second half, with Duffy showing a sign of the home side's intent six minutes after the restart when he cut in from the left, only to fire over.
Duffy would turn provider for the second goal on 53 minutes, though, curling a superb free kick into the edge of the six-yard box for Gartland to head home his side's 50th league goal of the season.
Within three minutes it was 3-0 as another Duffy delivery, this time from a corner, was flicked on by Gartland, with Benson on hand to nod the ball home from close range.
The chances continued to rain down for the home side after that with McMillan looking destined to score after being teed up by Duffy just before the hour mark, but his effort came back off the backside of Benson, who was offside.
Benson then had a header from another Duffy corner headed off the line by Tony Whitehead, before Dylan Connolly fired over from 10 yards out after it looked certain he would open his Dundalk account.
Limerick had a rare chance on 67 minutes when the ball broke to Rodrigo Tosi in the box, but his shot on the turn failed to find the target in an opening that pretty much summed up their night.
Lee J Lynch then had two further good chances as the clock ticked down, but both were off target.
It was a night to forget for the visitors but perhaps the turning of a corner for Dundalk.