Monday 20 May 2019

'Catch us if you can'

Limerick 0 Dundalk 1

Match-winner Michael Duffy controls as Limerick’s Darren Murphy closes in. Pictures: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE
Match-winner Michael Duffy controls as Limerick’s Darren Murphy closes in. Pictures: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE
John Mountney challenges Limerick’s Shane Duggan

James Rogers

As Sir Alex Ferguson famously said: 'Football, bloody hell!'

Friday night might not have matched the drama of Manchester Utd's 1999 Champions League win over Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp but it wasn't far off it.

Midway through the first half of the game in the Markets Field, an early Karl Sheppard goal for Cork City against Sligo Rovers in Turner's Cross had the gap at the top of the league table down to a single point with Dundalk struggling to make in-roads against a Limerick FC side whose spirit belied their current lowly position.

Then in an incredible 13 minutes, both games swung dramatically.

Firstly David Cawley equalised for Sligo down in Cork in the 72nd minute to send the large travelling support of Dundalk fans who had made the trip to Limerick into raptures.

Their cheers of delight would only grow on 81 minutes when a rasping shot from Michael Duffy saw Stephen Kenny's side take a lead that didn't look like coming for a long period before that.

The night was to get even better five minutes from the end when news emerged that Raffaele Cretaro had given Sligo the lead down in Cork. Suddenly that one point gap had been extended to six and that's the way it stayed until the finish.

There's still six games to go, with Dundalk's trip to Cork next time out to be another pivotal night. Yet if the Lilywhites do go on to retain the title come the end of October it will be hard not to look back at August 31st as a key moment in getting there.

Coming into the game on the back of the disappointment of defeat to Shamrock Rovers 72 hours earlier, there was an undoubted hangover for Dundalk in the early stages.

Limerick might be destined for the relegation play-offs but they played like a side fighting for the top spots themselves. They were solid at the back, quick on the break and while Dundalk dominated most of the possession, it was the home side who had the better of the chances.

There had been hope that things would improve for Dundalk in the second half but they didn't really. There was a lack of ideas, particularly in midfield, and it said a lot about Dundalk's display that Daniel Cleary at centre back looked their most creative source for long periods.

To his credit, Kenny used his subs well with the introduction of Patrick McEleney, in particular, giving the visitors that bit of zip that they had been missing. He was heavily involved in a move which saw fellow sub Ronan Murray's miscued shot break for Patrick Hoban in the box, who had a big penalty shout dismissed by referee Rob Rogers. It mattered little though as the loose ball broke to Duffy just outside the box and he made no mistake with a low drilled shot past Tommy Holland.

It was his 12th league goal of the campaign and undoubtedly his most important. Suddenly a difficult night turned out to be a memorable one.

It didn't look like going that way for a long period though.

Dundalk started on the front foot but failed to really trouble Limerick with Tommy Holland dealing easily with tame efforts from Duffy and Cleary in the opening four minutes.

Limerick showed they were up for a game with some good breaks of their own with Gary Rogers called into action for the first time in the 12th minute to deny Will Fitzgerald after Connor Ellis had held off Cleary.

Ellis was causing Dundalk no ends of problems with his pace and his driving run four minutes later saw him tee Karl O'Sullivan up for a shot that Rogers spilled before gathering at the second attempt.

The visitors were becoming frustrated but they almost got a stroke of fortune on 28 minutes when Duffy's free rebounded off the Limerick wall before inadvertently being teed up by referee Rogers for Dean Jarvis to get a shot away but Holland got down well to his right to save.

Duffy then crossed invitingly for Dylan Connolly on the half hour mark but he could only glance his header wide when he really should have done better.

Dundalk were fortunate not to find themselves behind on 42 minutes when a long throw from FitzGerald was flicked on by Cian Coleman, with Rogers having to scoop his header away.

Dundalk had their best chance of the half a minute before the break when Connolly found space on the right to cross to Hoban, whose powerful header was just about kept out by Holland.

Tommy Barrett's men would have been expecting a bit of a backlash from their visitors on the restart but it was they who conjured up the first real chance of the second half when Ellis found space on the right only to fire just over Rogers' crossbar.

Dundalk toiled for long periods after that to create chances with efforts from subs Murray and John Mountney both well off target.

They almost got a stroke of luck on 76 minutes when a free from Duffy skidded off the head of Darren Murphy to loop just over his own crossbar.

All the while Limerick were dangerous on the break and after Rogers had to tip a dangerous corner from Murphy over, the follow up was headed just wide at the back post by Barry Maguire on 80 minutes.

Within a minute Dundalk got the breakthrough and with news filtering through from Cork about developments there, the focus came on holding on. There was a late scare when Danny Morrissey and Brian Gartland came together in the box but referee Rob Rogers was uninterested in Limerick's half-hearted penalty appeals.

Having passed up the chance to go six points clear on Tuesday, it's a position Dundalk now find themselves in. The drama in Limerick and Cork on Friday night shows that nothing can be taken for granted in the final weeks of the season but this could prove to be a pivotal night in the title race. It will be difficult to catch Dundalk from here.

The Argus