Finn haunts Dundalk as Rovers make a statement
Shamrock R 2-1 Dundalk
Stephen Bradley's best night in management gave Stephen Kenny one of his worst. Shamrock Rovers enjoyed this win.
Dundalk started this season with ambitions of emulating the most famous achievement in Hoops history but the 'cheerio four in a row' chants were in vogue as the league champions slumped to a fifth defeat of the campaign to fall 15 points off the pace.
Rovers and Bradley needed this success, with early stutters raising questions about their evolution. If they can maintain this level, they will be fine.
Fittingly, though, the man who set them on their way has also been a factor in Dundalk's regression.
The departures of Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle were painful for Kenny, but they were expected. It was the surprise exit of Ronan Finn that hurt the most, as it strengthened a rival, and he came back to haunt his former employer.
After plaguing the subdued Patrick McEleney in the opening stages, Finn broke forward and was in the right place to convert a Simon Madden cross. It was a reward for a purposeful opening from the hosts.
Bradley's boys were clearly fired up, with bookings for Gary Shaw and Trevor Clarke inside ten minutes. The rookie boss has often spoken of the need to match Dundalk physically, and his team succeeded with a high-energy approach that was led by Finn.
Dundalk toiled and were restricted to shots from distance. A knock on the head also brought an end to skipper Stephen O'Donnell's contribution, and a fine last-ditch tackle from Dane Massey was required to keep the deficit at one.
Kenny had opted to mix things up at the back, with Brian Gartland dropped to the bench. Shaw gave Sean Hoare and Paddy Barrett a rough ride and further hesitancy in the away rearguard led to a Graham Burke corner and a Dave McAllister header past Gary Rogers.
Dundalk switched to three at the back after the interval, but they were short of ideas in the attacking third on a windy night back at the scene of the stage for the majority of 2016's brilliant European journey.
Rovers have faced questions about game management, yet they were sharper in the key phase of proceedings and a skirmish after a Barrett foul on Finn helped to run down the clock.
Another Dundalk old boy Darren Meenan did receive a second yellow at the death, and Niclas Vemmelund pulled one back from the subsequent free. There was no time left for Dundalk to pull back the deficit; the same could be said of their title challenge.
SHAMROCK ROVERS - Chencinski; Madden, Webster, Lopes, Byrne; Finn, McAllister (Bone 89); Meenan, Burke (Miele 80), Clarke; Shaw (Boyd 80)
DUNDALK - Rogers, Vemmelund, Barrett, Hoare, Massey; O'Donnell (Shields 32), Clifford (Kilduff 71); Mountney, McEleney, Duffy; McMillan (Stewart 80)
Ref - R Rogers (Dublin)