Daryl Horgan scores absolute screamer as Dundalk close in on league title
Dundalk 2 Cork City 1
THERE must be times when everybody involved with Cork City wonders how the last three years might have panned out if they didn’t lose Daryl Horgan to Dundalk in the winter of 2013.
At that stage, there was no indication that the two clubs were about to become the most significant players in League of Ireland football.
In Horgan, Dundalk have the best player in the country, a key factor in back-to-back title wins with Cork as runners-up.
And, with Ireland manager Martin O’Neill in attendance, the 24-year-old made the decisive contribution in a pulsating top-two clash to restore Dundalk’s four-point lead with five matches remaining.
It’s from this point that serious fixture congestion kicks in as their European meeting with Zenit St Petersburg means their final three matches will take place in a six-day period. This is not over.
But a pumped-up Stephen Kenny enjoyed this victory as his savvy group of players delivered the perfect response to a weekend collapse against Sligo Rovers.
From the first whistle, this was the hyperactive version of frenetic, a game played at one hundred miles an hour with the dreadful surface functioning as the wild card adding another layer of unpredictability. Tackles flew in at pace. The entertainment came from the intensity.
Kenny made big calls, replacing ’keeper Gary Rogers after a torrid spell and bringing in Gabriel Sava.
An injury to Sean Gannon led to Alan Keane coming in for a first league start while Patrick McEleney was well enough – despite what pre-match injury bulletins said – to start as Dundalk’s creative midfielder. Cork were without Gearoid Morrissey, an important cog in their midfield wheel.
The Leesiders were slightly unlucky to be behind after a decent opening half hour. It was a controversial seventh-minute free-kick that was responsible with Alan Bennett sliding in on the marauding McEleney and protesting his innocence when Tom Connolly deemed it to be a foul. The call was questionable.
Horgan stepped up to loop a right-footer over the wall and off the bar with the rebound catching the diving Cork ’keeper Mark McNulty and crossing the line for an own goal. He was slow to react to the original effort.
Cork responded well and probed without ever really utilising the skills of top scorer Sean Maguire. They also got the benefit of the doubt from the officials when an attempted McMillan lay-off struck the hand of Bennett inside the box. Connolly waved away appeals.
Still, the Leesiders were well in the game with Dundalk guilty of a couple of panicked clearances as they were temporarily pegged back.
However, as the interval approached, they strengthened as a unit with the work rate of Ronan Finn a huge help to Stephen O’Donnell and vindicating Kenny’s decision to leave Chris Shields in reserve. Dundalk were sharper in that department, with Andy Boyle and Brian Gartland in control at the back.
Horgan was the icing on top and he demonstrated his star quality with a 36th-minute goal that will feature in his showreel. When O’Donnell dispossessed Gavan Holohan to send the ball his way, the Galwegian was inside his own half.
He skipped away from Bolger and sprinted forward to capitalise on a three-v-two situation and, with the runs of McEleney and Dave McMillan leaving centre-halves Kenny Browne and Bennett torn between two decisions, Horgan chose the right moment to be selfish and rifled into the roof of the net to send the stadium wild.
Caulfield opted against a half-time switch but soon after the restart his first change paid off when Holahan’s replacement Mark O’Sullivan halved the deficit.
This time, Horgan was second best as Cork right full-back Steven Beattie charged down the flank and delivered a cross that caused a messy scramble and a successful O’Sullivan strike.
Kenny immediately sent for Shields in place of McEleney with tension in the air. Just nine days ago, Dundalk gave away a two-goal half-time advantage in their FAI Cup semi-final with Derry
But history would not repeat itself and they put pressure on a Cork midfield skating on thin ice. When Bolger took down Shields just outside the box, the natives bayed for a second yellow and raged when Connolly said no.
Dundalk showed their experience when it mattered, though, succeeding in keeping Cork at arm’s length with Caulfield sending for the youthful Chiedozie Ogbene in place of the ineffective Karl Sheppard. He was then switched to the left where Keane had subdued danger man Stephen Dooley
Dundalk arguably put together the best move of the match with John Mountney sweeping wide from a break led by McMillan and Finn. And despite losing the excellent Keane – who came out of retirement to sign up – they continued to press during the five minutes of added time. In the dying seconds, white shirts were in Cork’s half and they held out for the most vital three points of their extraordinary year.
Dundalk – Sava, Keane (Barrett 89), Gartland, Boyle, Massey; O’Donnell, Finn; Mountney, McEleney (Shields 58), Horgan; McMillan (C O’Connor 84).
Cork City – McNulty, Beattie, Bennett, Browne, O’Connor; Bolger, Buckley; Sheppard (Ogbene 74), Holohan (O’Sullivan 54), Dooley (Mulcahy 86); Maguire.
Ref – T Connolly (Dublin)