Sean Maguire returns to haunt Dundalk as Cork lay marker
The day started with Dundalk announcing that Stephen Kenny had agreed a two-year extension to his contract, but it ended with John Caulfield making a real statement about the future.
Dundalk 0 1 Cork City
This is the result that has eluded the Cork City manager. A first league win over Dundalk at the seventh attempt will not have erased the agony of losing the title decider here two years ago or the FAI Cup final in the Aviva last November.
What it confirms, however, is that his class of 2016 have the ability to inflict pain on Kenny’s side.
After taking the spoils in the President’s Cup last month, they built on that achievement to overcome some tough periods in this tense encounter and claim a precious three points courtesy of a 69th minute penalty from Sean Maguire – the in-form attacker who moved between the clubs in the off-season following a fruitless spell on the periphery in Louth.
Cork followers frustrated by back-to-back runners-up finishes will be hoping that it paves the way for their progression to centre stage.
It’s hardly surprising that there is no love lost between these teams given that they’ve gone head to head for major honours since Caulfield’s appointment revitalised Cork.
Inside ten seconds, the tone was set by Caulfield’s troops with a Stephen Dooley challenge on Brian Gartland winding up the home crowd and leading to a minor skirmish on the pitch.
The edge did provide a certain entertainment value and went some way to compensate for the lack of clear-cut chances before the interval. Despite some crunching challenges going in, the sum total in terms of damage was an accidental lost tooth for Dundalk left-full Dane Massey.
For the opening half-hour, it was the champions that played the better football. Cork had lost the services of Gearoid Morrissey to a knock which meant that skipper John Dunleavy started in midfield next to the excellent Greg Bolger, whose display here atoned for his careless dismissal in the loss to Derry last week.
Left-full Kevin O’Connor was retained after featuring in the drubbing of Longford on Monday night, yet he struggled in the early exchanges as Dundalk’s right winger John Mountney posed him quite a few problems.
The hosts trained in on this area in search of joy, although their best opportunity to open the scoring came when Daryl Horgan drifted infield from the left to curl a dangerous ball into the area that Ciaran Kilduff nodded narrowly off target.
Cork weathered the storm, however, and they enjoyed a promising spell before the break that was dampened by the fact they received three of the four yellow cards dished out by referee Paul McLaughlin in a hectic spell.
They received a boost after the resumption when Lilywhites’ winter recruit Patrick McEleney pulled up with what looked like a groin injury as he skipped away from O’Connor. His race was immediately run with the other new boy, ex-UCD playmaker Robbie Benson, drafted in for a stern test.
A dazzling break from Daryl Horgan and a Mountney shot that was deflected over raised the volume again, yet Cork were holding their own in the key battles and sensed there was an opportunity to be taken.
They squandered a golden chance after the hour mark when a fine move culminated with a Dooley flick for Beattie who was denied by a fine stop by the alert Gary Rogers.
Crucially, they probed to knock on the door again and struck the decisive blow when a Sheppard cross was handballed by Dane Massey and muted protests were followed by a calm Maguire conversion.
Dundalk searched for inspiration. Kenny sacrificed a defender and sent in Dave McMillan and Darren Meenan. Cork kept them at arm’s length, though, to ensure a happy trip home for the first time since 2009.
Dundalk – Rogers, Gannon (Meenan 81), Gartland, Boyle, Massey; O’Donnell, Finn; Mountney, McEleney (Benson 53), Horgan; Kilduff (McMillan 76).
Cork – McNulty, O’Connell, Bennett, Browne, Dunleavy; Bolger, O’Connor; Beattie (Healy 79), Sheppard, Dooley (Turner 84); Maguire (O’Sullivan 88).
Ref – P McLaughlin (Monaghan)