Wednesday 24 January 2018

Follow Me to glory...

Terry Conlon

PULSES raced and hearts pounded as Oriel Park rocked to a cacophony of sound on a night that will live long in the memory.

Strains of 'Come on Ye Lilywhites' joyously rang out in an atmosphere rarely experienced since the great old days of Dundalk Football Club.

The pre kick-off excitement at the prospect of bridging an 18-year gap to a League title morphed into genuine expectation as a wonder goal after 15 minutes by July Player of the Month Patrick Hoban, and a header by Chris Shields on the hour, clinched victory over the reigning champions.

That supporters now can see a Premier Division trophy arriving back at Oriel Park is down to the wonders that manager Stephen Kenny and his backroom team have worked, and the team of heroes he has so very quickly developed from virtually scratch, most of whom are young or unknown, or both, playing for the high stakes for the first time.

They have been discounted all along but this performance, defeating the champs after also beating their predecessors Shamrock Rovers in the previous home match to extend their unbeaten run to seven games, including four wins on the bounce, showed the qualities of genuine contenders.

Not least a voracious hunger and immense character, with each and every player performing as if their lives depended on the outcome, refusing to buckle when the persistence of tSligo attacks just seemed it had to yield a goal as they completely dominated after Patrick Hoban put the home side ahead.

The 22 year-old, who was presented with his Player of the Month award before kick-off, was snapped up by Kenny from unfashionable Mervue United and has been a revelation with his 13th goal in all competitions a marvel of technique, timing and audacity that only a player on the very top of his form would even attempt. His overhead bicycle kick amazingly separated the sides at the break, after Sligo dominated the play after falling behind.

There appeared no danger as Richie Towell knocked the ball into the box from just outside the area. A defender understandably stood slightly off the well built Hoban with his back to goal, but the striker instinctively sensed the room that he was afforded and leaned back and with perfect coordination met the dropping ball with the instep of his right foot and acrobatically sent it over his head from 12 yards, over the aghast Gary Rogers and underneath the crossbar.

It was the only attempt that the Lilywhites had on goal in the first 45 minutes and was indeed somewhat against the run of play as Sligo started better. They harassed and never allowed Dundalk to gain any real measure of control, frequently breaking up the short bouts of passing the home side managed in trying to retain possession and struggled to play their way out of their own half.

Captain Stephen O'Donnell and Richie Towell worked tirelessly, and the recalled Dane Massey's aerial strength was much called upon as the home team valiantly held out against an almost constant wave of attacks.

The dangerous Djilali had a great chance to equalise which he created himself, jinking past two home defenders into the box to have a free shot which he steered badly wide of the far post.

Gavin Peers headed over in the early minutes after Ndo caught Dundalk napping from a free-kick with Alan Keane left all alone on the right to cross on six minutes. Dundalk did well to defend two successive Sligo corners shortly after taking the lead, and from another corner later in the half one of the smallest players on the field Raphael Cretaro stooped for a free header that was straight at Peter Cherrie.

Gavin Peers should have equalised on 35 minutes when Djilali wriggled away from Gartland on the endline and crossed into the middle of the goalmouth where the centre-half sent a free header over the bar.

Connelly failed to convert another good headed opportunity minutes from the break, but there was a whole transformation in the play as Dundalk took command after a scare on the resumption. Elding pealed away from the Dundalk defence at the far post to head a cross back across the face of goal but no teammate was there to covert the inviting opportunity.

The introduction of the unlucky Chris Shields on 51 minutes was the real turning point as Dundalk broke the Sligo dominance and the home crowd nearly lifted the roof of the two stands as the decibel levels soared, interjected by joyous renditions of 'Come on Ye Lilywhites'.

Captain Stephen O'Donnell led the charge to wrestle control of the match, but Shields' crunching tackle on the touchline just inside his own half to halt a menacing Sligo raid, was the real rallying point just after he replaced Dillon.

He instigated a counter attack down the other side which ended with a sliding Hoban just failing to turn in Kurtis Byrne's low cross at the far post. This led to sustained pressure that yielded the decisive second goal with Sligo struggling to clear two successive corners.

The ball came to Darren Meenan on the right and when he swung one of his bending razor sharp crosses from the right Shields rose highest in the middle of the penalty cross to power his header high to the net and send the home faithful into raptures.

Sligo bravely came back strongly towards the end exerting concerted pressure, but the outcome could have been put beyond any doubt when Hoban went down in the box as he got goal side line of Galway defenders when captain O'Donnell curled a slide rule pass from outside the box behind the defence. Dundalk's loud appeals for a penalty went unheeded.

But they remained resolute, earning their piece of good fortune when Cretaro's shot hit the post and rebounded back off Peter Cherrie for a corner on 79 minutes. The goalkeeper was after twice in quick succession fully arching back to claw away dangerous crosses.

Kurtis Byrne had the opportunity to put the icing on the win when he galloped into space down the inside left channel and into box but in seeking to place his shot struck it straight at Rogers four minutes into stoppage time.

The Argus

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