Clinical Dundalk finish off Rovers to extend advantage
Dundalk 2 Shamrock Rovers 0
In front of their biggest crowd of the season, Dundalk took a giant step towards retaining the Premier Division title for the first time in their history.
And, in the process, they ended any Shamrock Rovers hopes of making a late charge for the crown.
Goals from ex-Hoops Ronan Finn and Sean Gannon secured a sweet success for Stephen Kenny over long-term rival Pat Fenlon.
It moves the border club eight points clear of Cork and 15 ahead of Rovers. With just seven games remaining, they stand firmly in control of their destiny.
The outcome delighted the majority of the 3,956 spectators, even if they had to endure nervy moments either side of half-time. But Kenny's group hung in like champions do to secure their aim.
It's rarely dull when these parties lock horns and this was a typically frenetic affair with an obvious edge.
Rovers knew that a victory was essential but they were left to play catch-up following a sloppy error after a quarter of an hour.
Dundalk pounce on mistakes when they play at high intensity, and Rovers were punished by playing the ball out from the back with Gary McCabe caught in possession thanks to hassling from Richie Towell and Finn.
The latter continued his run from the ensuing break to collect a Dave McMillan pass and fire a daisycutter past his old team-mate Barry Murphy.
Finn had also scored in the 2-2 draw between these sides in Tallaght earlier this season and he was prominent again early on.
The Hoops successfully came from behind to level on that occasion and they could have restored parity by the interval here as the natives lost their way a bit, ceding possession easily and allowing Brandon Miele and Mikey Drennan to drift into space between midfield and attack.
Miele forced a fine stop from Gary Rogers and saw another attempt deflected narrowly wide, while the home netminder was also called into action when Gavin Brennan took aim from distance. Dundalk needed the whistle.
The respite was only temporary, though, as Rovers applied sustained pressure again before the hour mark, asking serious questions from a series of corners. Kenny duly sent in Chris Shields as a defensive midfielder for Finn to shore things up.
This freed up Richie Towell to support McMillan, and Shields quickly warmed to the battle in his usual combative fashion.
He helped build a platform for the insurance goal with the liberated Gannon bursting forward from right full in the 68th minute, combining with McMillan and then guiding the ball past Murphy with a deft touch.
That drained the life from the Rovers resistance with Fenlon turning to his subs for inspiration, although he decided against sending in Damien Duff.
By then, the game was up as Dundalk relaxed to see out a momentous result.
Dundalk - Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; O'Donnell, Towell; Mountney (Meenan 66), Finn (Shields 62), Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 74).
Shamrock Rovers - Murphy, Madden, Webster, Kenna, Byrne; Blanchard (R Brennan 85), McCabe (Cregg 75); G Brennan, Drennan, Miele (McCaffrey 75); North.
ref - P McLaughlin (Monaghan)