'Massive result' hailed by battle-scarred supersub
HOME-TOWN hero Tiarnan Mulvenna (pictured below) bore the marks of victory, with his stomach sporting an imprint of the studs of Shelbourne defender Brian Shortall, who made contact with the striker in the prelude to the game's decisive moment.
The incident 12 minutes from time raised the temperature in what was a tepid, cagey affair in the first half as Shelbourne threw the gauntlet down to Dundalk to break their tightly packed defensive formation.
Dundalk found it hard to put fluency into their game, with a well-organised Shelbourne closing the space down in their half, but the hosts injected more urgency and tempo into their play in the second half, only for a nasty edge to enter the exchanges in the closing stages.
For one, assistant manager Vinny Perth was incensed over what happened to the 24-year-old striker. 'We all made bad tackles, but anything over waist high is not acceptable,' he said.
The incident was preceded by a light-hearted interlude as confusion resulted when '12' appeared on the fourth official's board as Shelbourne went to make a substitution 20 minutes from time - the number was of their goalkeeper Ger Hanley who spent a good part of last season at Oriel Park. A delay ensued in making the change as '21' was flashed for Craig Mooney in midfield to make way. The mood quickly changed, though, as Shorthall made his way to the tunnel, with words exchanged between the benches.
For the aggrieved Mulvenna, who lay on the ground receiving attention surrounded by a cluster of players from both sides, the decision was clear for the referee.
In his view Alan Kelly is the 'best referee in the league', but it was an easy enough call for the match official. 'He [Shorthall] cleared the ball in the air and for some reason came for me,' Mulvenna recalled. 'I thought he was probably their best player on the night, holding them together at the back.'
His departure could have been the difference in Shels holding out for a precious point, and with seven players sent off so far this season Mulvenna mused that it could be a big part in why they are rooted to the bottom of the table.
Perth, meanwhile, hailed a great night for Dundalk as they took full advantage of Derry's defeat to UCD and Sligo's draw with another of the bottom clubs, Bray.
It might have taken until three minutes from the end of normal time to secure the three points, but they were 'so well deserved', said Perth, who nevertheless admitted to being worried about being hit with a sucker punch in the closing seconds.
'They have one or two lads who can score goals, but we were the only team looking to win the game. In fairness Shelbourne are feeling a little bit of pressure, but it would have been a hugely frustrating night if one of the chances hadn't gone in. Results have gone our way as regards the top of the table, so it's been a great night.'
Mulvenna agreed, insisting it was 'a massive result' to keep Dundalk in touch with the top two.
He earned the plaudits of the assistant manager for the manner in which he took the decisive goal. 'Tiarnan is brilliant in one-on-one situations. His first touch is exceptional. It was a great night for him.'
While Shels made life very difficult for the hosts, Perth felt Dundalk's fitness played a huge part in battering down the door for Mulvenna to break through.
For his part, the striker said he was spurred on by his withdrawal at the break in Bray and being left out at the start against Shamrock Rovers the previous Monday - although he couldn't take issue with manager Stephen Kenny's tactics.
'He goes with whatever he thinks. It works and he knows what he is doing. I probably should have scored against Rovers and didn't play my best against Bray.
'I'd love to get a run of games and my confidence would grow and probably score more goals, but all I can do is score when I get in and hopefully get Stephen to stick with me,' said the striker, whose tally now stands at four from four starts.