Stephen Kenny angry with Turner's Cross pitch as Cork extend advantage to six points
Cork City 2 Dundalk 1
There were conflicting views about Saturday's spectacle in Turner's Cross as the managers digested the outcome.
Not surprisingly, the result appeared to shape the glass-half-full and glass-half-empty sides of the debate.
John Caulfield was looking on the bright side, a full house of almost 7,000 spectators watching a feisty battle on a sunny afternoon.
"I keep saying there is potential in this league," said the Cork boss after watching his team make it 18 points from a possible 18.
Stephen Kenny was less than enamoured by the exercise after suffering a sixth defeat in the last seven meetings with the Leesiders to fall half a dozen points behind the pacesetters.
"I didn't think either team played that well," sighed Kenny. "The pitch wasn't watered, it was very difficult to pass on it and very strange.
"They ended up knocking long clearances over the top for Sean Maguire. We played longer than we normally would. It wasn't a good technical match at all."
But it was basic errors that cost Dundalk again, just as they did in their defeat to Derry in Buncrana a fortnight ago. They were left to play catch-up due to a first-half brace from Karl Sheppard that capitalised on tardy defending.
Maguire failed to get on the scoresheet for the first time this season, but his performance was no less impressive.
He made both goals, sprinting away on the counter-attack arising from a Dundalk corner to tee up the first for the right winger and then playing a through ball for the second that Sheppard converted after a mix-up between Dundalk left full Dane Massey and goalkeeper Gary Rogers.
That goal told a story as a well-drilled Cork side were just that bit sharper despite entering this match without Greg Bolger, Steven Beattie and John Dunleavy. Caulfield had to mix things up but got the formula right with Jimmy Keohane trialled at right full and Conor McCormack moved into midfield to shackle Patrick McEleney.
"We were really good in the first half," said Caulfield. "We had worked hard on the areas where we thought we would cause them trouble."
Kenny did feel hard done by, though. He was forced into an early change when Robbie Benson damaged his hamstring in a clash with Sheppard during a fifth-minute round of applause for the late Ryan McBride. Benson's replacement Conor Clifford didn't see the game out either as he was dazed by a blow to the head.
But it was ref Rob Rogers that really frustrated Kenny. He felt Ciarán Kilduff was fouled in the box by Cork 'keeper Mark McNulty before the interval, with replays strengthening the case.
The Dundalk striker was also involved in a disallowed goal and then got sent off for a second bookable offence with five minutes plus stoppage time to go, a momentum-checker given that sub Dave McMillan had just pulled a goal back to set up a tense finish with Cork inviting pressure.
"I don't think we deserved to lose the game," said Kenny. "We had the penalty, the disallowed goal and the sending-off. It was a clear penalty and then we are looking at 1-1 (at half-time) instead of 2-0.
"It's still early in the season," he continued. "There's only six games gone and 27 left."
Cork have developed an impressive winning habit, however, squeezing out results without hitting their peak.
Alan Bennett remains a commanding presence at the back, while Dundalk are clearly missing the steadying influence of Andy Boyle as much as the creative brilliance of Daryl Horgan. And they could do with a fit Stephen O'Donnell too.
Cork feel they have the depth to cope with setbacks. "If you look at our squad, we have a bit more quality and quantity now," said Sheppard. "We know when are on song that we can beat any team. I'm not sure if you would call it (the win) a statement but it is much better to be on top than chasing as we have been in the last few years."
Caulfield echoed those sentiments. "They threw the kitchen sink at us but the most important thing is we showed a lot of resilience," said the City boss, buoyed by the attendance. "This is a special time in the club's history, a special team and we wanted the fans to buy into that right from the start."
Occasions like Saturday will keep them coming back, even if this was a tale of graft rather than guile. Good results always sell.
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
Ref - R Rogers (Dublin)