Special Dundalk side retain crown with efficient display
Dundalk 2 Bohemians 1
They have been the story of the Irish football year and this win for Dundalk means the record books will show it.
The only negative angle to their European exploits was the potential impact on their hopes of retaining their domestic title, but pressure seems to bring the best out of Stephen Kenny's extraordinary side.
On a night of celebration at Oriel Park, they got the job done to secure three in a row with two games to spare, an emphatic response to the fixture congestion that has asked a lot of everyone involved with the border club.
It seemed to be catching up with them two weekends ago when a shock loss to Sligo reduced their lead to one but four straight wins - starting with the decisive success over Cork - delivered the silverware.
They still have a cup final and the battle for a place in the Europa League round of 32 to play for. That heavy workload is what makes this such a proud achievement for Kenny and his staff.
This match kicked off at 7pm so the FAI could stay within their own rules preventing a team from playing twice inside 48 hours .
Kenny admitted relief was the primary emotion as he can now rest legs for tomorrow's meaningless date with St Patrick's Athletic as minds will now focus on next week's trip to Russia and an FAI Cup final with Cork City.
Winger Daryl Horgan said this was the most satisfying league win of them all because of that schedule and the weight of pre-season predictions leaning towards Cork. "We were told at the start of the season that we wouldn't be winning anything," he claimed.
Defender Brian Gartland, the goalscoring hero of Dundalk's Super Sunday, also addressed that theme.
"We'd lost Richie (Towell) with his 29 goals and obviously there were going to be questions," he said. "But people in this country look at what we don't have rather than what we have and what we have in this squad."
This is the fourth league win on his CV, moving him level with Turlough O'Connor and Dermot Keely. Pat Fenlon is on five with Jim McLaughlin top of the charts on eight.
Kenny has a way to travel to get to the summit but if he starts next year in Louth then he can aim to become the first boss to win four on the trot. McLaughlin departed the magical Shamrock Rovers side of the 1980s after the third of their famous four.
"At the moment I am just enjoying the three-in-a-row," he smiled, when that subject was raised. "And knowing that that's not it. Before I look at four in a row, I better look at the tests we have ahead.
"I cherish every victory," he continued, "I don't take anything for granted."
This Dundalk group has played their way into discussions about the all-time great sides and, while the manager is the glue that holds it together, he is working with a dressing room filled with strong characters.
Seven members of last night's starting team have contributed to all of Kenny's league wins here and they have grown into proven winners. In front of a packed ground, they eked out this success.
The quality of their football has earned them admiration from a wider audience, yet seasoned watchers of the domestic game respect their efficiency in doing the simple better things better than everyone else.
Set-pieces come under that heading and both their goals came from that avenue in a match where they struggled to hit their peak.
In the 15th minute, strong running from Ronan Finn forced a corner that Patrick McEleney delivered for Andy Boyle to convert.
The coronation was going to plan but Bohs started to find space in a congested midfield with the inclusion of Mark Quigley in a playmaking role giving Chris Shields some food for thought. Keith Long's charges levelled from a controversial penalty.
Contact appeared to be non-existent when Finn swung a boot in the direction of Keith Buckley who did enough to convince the officials. Quigley gave Gary Rogers no chance.
Kenny had recalled his number one, citing a groin problem for Gabriel Sava who dropped to the bench after his error gave Zenit St Petersburg a lifeline on Thursday.
Opposition netminder Shane Supple, a target for Dundalk in the summer, was the busier stopper.
Bohs threatened after the restart with Dean O'Halloran wasting one chance and a penalty shout for Derek Pender waved away.
Kenny took action by introducing Robbie Benson to support the tireless Shields and he helped Dundalk to pick up the pace of play. His overhead kick trickled wide after Supple could only palm Horgan's cross onto the woodwork.
"Robbie was the difference," said Benson. "He gave us a real energy." On the hour mark, it was a foul on last winter's signing from UCD that gave the locals the initiative.
It was just inside the Bohs half but Dundalk sent forward the cavalry and Finn's lengthy delivery was steered across the area by Dane Massey with Gartland on hand to apply the final touch.
After that, it was about using experience to get to the chequered flag.
A late announcement from the PA telling the visiting supporters to leave first tempted fate. But nothing would prevent this special side from Dundalk's twelfth league triumph and the full-time acclaim that their efforts have deserved.
Dundalk - Rogers; Keane, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields, Finn; Mountney (Benson 55), McEleney (Meenan 71), Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 81).
Bohemians - Supple; Pender, D Byrne, Prendergast, Fitzgerald; Lopes; Buckley, Kavanagh; Quigley (Casey 83); K Byrne, O'Halloran (Wearen 72).
REF - N Doyle (Dublin)