Duffy stunner seals title success for Dundalk
Joy for Perth's charges as victory in thriller wraps up another league
The work was done before last night, but this was the perfect way for Dundalk to secure a fifth league title in the space of six seasons.
This victory over their nearest pursuers, a Shamrock Rovers side that fielded pretty much all of their big guns, was a timely show of strength. Vinny Perth now looks set to win his first title in charge by a double-figure points total.
Dundalk are 15 clear with four matches to go, quite a turnaround seeing as Rovers were 13 ahead in early April, albeit with two games more played. They were reminded of that by the home fans.
Visiting boss Stephen Bradley shunned the temptation to rest players with Friday's season-defining cup tie with Bohemians in mind.
But the Dubliners fell short in a loose and entertaining affair that had a completely different personality to previous meetings this term.
Maybe it would have been tighter if the league was still alive, but Rovers' defensive application was sloppy and complacency crept into the Dundalk ranks after they took a two-goal lead into the interval.
"We may not have finished the last 20 minutes the Dundalk way but at times we were sensational as well," said an emotional Perth, with Michael Duffy's decisive right-footed strike the magic moment that ultimately saw them across the line.
"Other teams might have crumbled but not us," said midfielder Chris Shields, one of the players that has been there from the start of this golden era.
Dundalk's league defeats this term came on back-to-back weeks against St Patrick's Athletic and Sligo Rovers as the Hoops opened up that deceiving gap.
The Lilywhites are unbeaten in domestic action since then, a record of 26 wins and three draws in all competitions which has fuelled treble ambitions. A relentless march.
Stephen Kenny was present, reportedly in 'fine health' and given a warm round of applause after his recent scare in Sweden, but Perth has proven that he can maintain the good times.
"I've not done what Stephen Kenny has done. It's only year one, it's a starting point," he said. "I want the pressure that comes with managing this club.
"If Dundalk lose two games, it's a disaster, which is fine. We go out of Europe in the third round, and most teams think that's success but for us that's failure. You want that highest standard."
The first half was a microcosm of the season, with Rovers starting well before Dundalk gradually wrestled control of proceedings.
Bradley's side produced some decent passages of play, without penetrating, and the locals began to turn the screw on the guests in their own half.
The serial winners were to the fore with Chris Shields the most forceful midfielder on the park, full-backs Seán Gannon and Dane Massey prominent, and Robbie Benson making up for lost time in an injury-ravaged season with an influential showing.
Seán Hoare broke the deadlock, capitalising on slack marking to power home Duffy's corner, while a flowing move produced the second with Benson nodding home a delicious Patrick McEleney cross.
Aaron Greene halved the deficit from the restart, Dundalk's first league concession in 81 days. They responded in thrilling fashion, with another passage of clever build-up play fashioning the opportunity for Duffy to find the top corner from 25 yards with a thunderbolt.
Aaron McEneff pulled one back as Dundalk fell into a temporary slumber and they were under the cosh in a frantic conclusion, with Jack Byrne dropping deeper as they kept the ball better.
Greene was inches away from dampening the local enthusiasm, but Dundalk's success has been about more than fine margins. Winning is their habit.
Dundalk - Rogers, Gannon, Cleary, Hoare, Massey; Shields, Benson (Murray 67); McGrath, McEleney (D Kelly 78), Duffy; Hoban (G Kelly 87).
Shamrock Rovers - Mannus, Grace, Lopes, Lafferty; Finn, O'Neill (B Kavanagh 78), McEneff, S Kavanagh; Byrne, Burke (Watts 75); Greene.
Ref - P McLaughlin (Donegal).