Thursday 14 December 2017

Dundalk are crowned the Airtricity League Premier Division champions for the third time in a row

Dundalk 2 Bohemians 1

Brian Gartland of Dundalk celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division game between Dundalk and Bohemians at Oriel Park in Dundalk. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Brian Gartland of Dundalk celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division game between Dundalk and Bohemians at Oriel Park in Dundalk. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THEY have been the story of the Irish football year and this win for Dundalk means that the record books will show it.

The only negative angle to their European exploits was the potential impact on their hopes of retaining their domestic title, but pressure seems to bring the best out of Stephen Kenny's extraordinary side.

On a night of celebration at Oriel Park, they got the job done to secure three in a row with two games to spare, an emphatic response to the fixture congestion that has asked a lot of everyone involved with the border club.

They now have the silverware to mark another year of progress and still have the opportunity to complete back to back doubles and prolong their interest in the Europa League until 2017.

It's his players ability to cope with the workload which makes this a proud achievement for Kenny and his staff. This match kicked off at 7pm so the FAI could stay within their own rules preventing a team from playing twice inside 48 hours.

Management can now rest some tired limbs for tomorrow's meaningless date with St Patrick's Athletic. They might even be permitted a mini-celebration before turning minds towards next week's trip to Russia and an FAI Cup final date with Cork City.

This is the fourth title win of Kenny's managerial career which moves him level with Turlough O'Connor and Dermot Keely on the all-time chart. Pat Fenlon is on five with Jim McLaughlin top of the charts on eight.

Kenny has a way to travel to get to the summit - especially as doors are likely to open for him - but if he starts next year in Louth then he can aim to become the first boss to win four on the trot. McLaughlin departed the magical Shamrock Rovers side of the 1980s after the third of their famous four.

This Dundalk group has played their way into discussions about the all-time great sides and, while the manager is the glue that holds it together, he has benefited from an exceptional collection of players that continue to raise the bar.

Seven members of last night's starting team have contributed to all of Kenny's league wins here and they have grown into proven winners under his watch. In front of a packed ground, they eked out the success that was necessary to get over the line.

The quality of their football has earned them admiration from a wider audience, yet seasoned watchers of the domestic game also respect their efficiency when it comes to the fine margins that decide titles. In short, they do the simple things better than everyone else.

Set pieces come under that heading and both their goals came from that avenue. In the 15th minute, strong running from Ronan Finn forced a corner that Patrick McEleney delivered with Andy Boyle in the right place ahead of Roberto Lopes and Derek Prendergast to dispatch the final touch.

The coronation was going to plan but Bohs started to find space in a congested midfield with the inclusion of Mark Quigley in a playmaking role in what was effectively a diamond giving Chris Shields some food for thought.

Overplaying from the hosts gave Kurtis Byrne an opportunity to shoot over before a controversial penalty gave the Dubliners a equaliser.

Contact appeared to be non-existent when Finn swung a boot in the direction of Keith Buckley who did enough to convince the officials without strong appeals from his colleagues. Quigley - back at one of his many old stomping grounds - took the responsibility off designated taker Byrne to expertly slot past Gary Rogers.

Kenny had recalled his number one, citing a groin problem for Gabriel Sava who dropped to the bench after his error gave Zenit St Petersburg a route back into Thursday's Europa League reverse at the hands of Zenit.

Opposition netminder Shane Supple was floated as a possible recruit yet he has committed to Bohs so he can maintain his GAA commitments and he was the busier stopper as white shirts unsuccessfully sought to restore their advantage before half-time.

But Bohs threatened after the restart with Dean O'Halloran fluffing one chance and a penalty shout waved away when Derek Pender went down with stronger claims than the earlier award.

Kenny took action by introducing Robbie Benson for John Mountney to support Shields in the centre of the park and he helped Dundalk to pick up the pace of play. His overhead kick trickled wide after Supple could only palm Horgan's cross onto the woodwork.

On the hour mark, it was a foul on last winter's signing from UCD that gave the locals the initiative.

It was just inside the Bohs half but Dundalk sent forward the cavalry and Finn's lengthy delivery was executed by a training ground move with Dane Massey's racing in from the left side to meet it with a header that invited Brian Gartland to apply the crucial touch.

In the key match with Cork earlier this month, the Lilywhites closed things out in the final 30 minutes without giving the opposition any encouragement and, as Bohs ran out of gas, they repeated the feat.

A late announcement from the PA telling the visiting supporters to leave first tempted fate.

But nothing would prevent this special side from Dundalk's twelfth league triumph and the full-time acclaim that their efforts have deserved.

Among those offering their congratulations was President Michael D Higgins

“May I convey my warmest congratulations to Stephen Kenny and his team on winning the League of Ireland," he said.

"Their win means that Dundalk FC now joins Cork United, Waterford and Shamrock Rovers on the list of clubs that have won the League three times in a row.

"Their success has been an inspiration for many and it is my sincere hope that the example set by Dundalk will inspire many young men and women to participate in sport, and to support the clubs in the League of Ireland.”  

Dundalk: Rogers, Keane, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields, Finn; Mountney (Benson 55), McEleney (Meenan 71), Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 81)

Bohemians: Supple, Pender, D Byrne, Prendergast, Fitzgerald; Lopes; Buckley, Kavanagh; Quigley (Casey 83); K Byrne, O'Halloran (Wearen 72)

Referee: N Doyle (Dublin)

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