Ciaran Kilduff bags brace as Dundalk get title defence off to perfect start
Bray Wanderers 1 Dundalk 3
DUNDALK's mission for a third successive league title kicked off with a routine victory inspired by a rejuvenated Ciaran Kilduff.
Their opening trip to the Carlisle Grounds was earmarked as a potential banana skin, but the champions were always in control as they collected three points.
Stephen Kenny was unimpressed with his side's application in last week's President's Cup defeat to Cork City and they set out of the blocks with the purpose of a team that was determined to put it right.
They were ahead inside five minutes when a break from Ronan Finn and a John Mountney cross gave Kilduff the time and space in the area to divert a right footer past Cherrie.
The well travelled attacker was preferred to David McMillan and, after joining midway through last term, he is clearly determined to make the most of his first full season in Dundalk colours.
Fortune played a part in his second goal before the half hour mark but he still had to be alert enough to capitalise on a ricochet arising from an attempted Bray clearance that set him through on goal; he got there ahead of Bray centre halves Alan McNally and Conor McKenna before calmly dispatching past Peter Cherrie.
Dundalk were unable to relax with the two goal cushion, however, with the deficit halved inside a minute as a free kick concession was punished. Dean Kelly stepped up to take aim on goal and his attempt took a strong deflection past Gary Rogers.
It was a reminder that they were in for a battle, although the meaty nature of challenges throughout meant there was never any confusion in that regard. Mountney hobbled off before the interval due to the after-effects of an earlier 50-50.
And ref Padraigh Sutton gave his yellow card arm plenty of exercise with a clash between Kelly and Brian Gartland after the restart resulting in both players joining three of Bray's back four in his notebook.
The Seagulls have been tipped to do well this year and with eight additions in their starting XI, Mick Cooke will feel there is plenty to work on. He brought in some familiar faces with Alan Byrne, who played under him at Drogheda, deployed here in a defensive role in front of the back four. This was an area where the Wicklow side attempted to prevent Dundalk from enjoying any freedom and they succeeded to some degree in the scrappy period following the break.
The closest Dundalk came to extending their lead came when a misplaced Ronan Finn cross was acrobatically turned over by Peter Cherrie. And when the game opened up again, Daryl Horgan's pass caught sub Darren Meenan off guard - he was expecting the Galwegian to shoot when he breached the Bray defensive line.
Kenny replaced the subdued Patrick McEleney with Chris Shields as the game entered its final quarter hour, a recognition that Bray could still cause them problems even though the border side were in the ascendency.
But their task was made easier when Cooke's left full Curtis Murphy was sent off for a second yellow by Sutton when he illegally halted a Paddy Barrett advance.
Before Bray could recover, Finn removed all suspense from the outcome with a clever strike through a crowd of bodies from outside the area which wrong footed Cherrie.
Bray: Cherrie, Harding, McNally, Kenna, Murphy; Byrne, Salmon; McDonagh (Connolly 63), Brennan, Moore; Kelly (Lewis 79)
Dundalk: Rogers, Barrett, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; O'Donnell (Benson 85), Finn; Mountney (Meenan 37), McEleney (Shields 74), Horgan; Kilduff
Referee: P Sutton (Clare)