Sheppard double maintains Cork's unbeaten start to the season in win over Dundalk
Cork City 2 Dundalk 1
THE full-time whistle at Turner's Cross was greeted by a cheer filled with the optimism that maybe, just maybe, this could be Cork City's year.
John Caulfield's charges are six points clear at the top of the League of Ireland Premier Division after their sixth win in their last seven meetings with a Dundalk side that has consigned them to second place for the past three seasons.
Time will determine the significance of this victory, but this maintains Cork's 100pc start to the new campaign and they deserved it for being the sharper and more tuned in operation during a first half where Karl Sheppard scored both of their goals
They did have to withstand late pressure from the champions, who were still pushing for an equaliser at the death despite the dismissal of Ciaran Kilduff for a second yellow card.
Ultimately, they had given themselves too stiff a hill to climb. Stephen Kenny will be hoping that doesn't become the story of their season.
In front of a capacity crowd, Dundalk were forced into an early change when a early hamstring injury ended Robbie Benson's participation with Conor Clifford introduced.
However, Cork had to cope without the loss of Greg Bolger, John Dunleavy and Steven Beattie and Caulfield formed a coherent plan with midfielder Jimmy Keohane dropping back to right full, and Conor McCormack taking Bolger's holding role, where he kept a close eye on Dundalk star man Patrick McEleney.
That was the key to subduing Dundalk. Breaking them down was another challenge and, as per usual, Sean Maguire was the pivotal figure for the Leesiders. The arch predator turned creator to make both goals for thr right winger.
Dundalk paid for sluggishness with Chris Shields giving the ball away after a set piece broke down and Stephen Dooley releasing Maguire who outpaced Clifford on a run from deep into the Dundalk box where he squared for Sheppard who finished first time.
Speed of thought was at the heart of Sheppard's second eight minutes before the interval with his turn and pass exposing left full Dane Massey who was caught in no-man's land as he waited for Gary Rogers to leave his goal - Sheppard nipped in between them to round the netminder and slot gleefully into the empty net to delight the majority of the capacity crowd.
Dundalk did have a vain shout for a penalty prior to that, when Kilduff fell under a challenge from Mark McNulty after the Cork keeper had pushed away Michael Duffy's shot, but Rob Rogers waved the appeals away.
The Louthmen had little cause for complaint about the overall state of play and they sought to up their performance level from the restart.
Clifford was forced to leave the park after taking a smack to his face with physio Fearghal Kerin telling Kenny to make the change despite the player's protestations. That did allow Kenny to bring in the more attack minded Thomas Stewart and he later sent for an extra attacker in the form of David McMillan and rotated his forward line.
Cork did look to be comfortable and happy to absorb pressure but McMillan added suspense to the final fifteen minutes by finding the space at the edge of the box to angle a left footer past McNulty. Buoyed by that, the Lilywhites continued to press on but they lost Kilduff when he mistimed a tackle on McCormack and Rob Rogers produced a second yellow.
Dundalk could still have grabbed a late point, however, but Massey overclubbed when McEleney presented an opportunity on a plate. They will have plenty to ponder on their trip back up the M1.
Cork City: McNulty, Keohane, Bennett, Delaney, O'Connor; McCormack, Morrissey; Sheppard, Buckley (Campion 75), Dooley (Griffin 90); Maguire (Ellis 89)
Dundalk: Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Barrett, Massey; Shields, Benson (Clifford 6; Stewart 54); Mountney (McMillan 69), McEleney, Duffy; Kilduff