Saturday 14 December 2019

Dundalk hand out six of the best as gulf in class between north and south is exposed

Dundalk 6 Linfield 0 (Dundalk win 7-1 on aggregate)

Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth lifts the Unite the Union Champions Cup. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth lifts the Unite the Union Champions Cup. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It's fair to say that the jury is out on the Unite the Union Cup after the maiden renewal.

This facile success highlighted the difference between the leading lights on either side of the border.

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Vinny Perth rotated his squad across the two matches, without any real cost to the performance levels. They were three ahead by the interval and assured of a trophy-winning end to the campaign, and the €50,000 prize.

Linfield made the trip down the motorway without their star striker Shayne Lavery - who is on international duty with Northern Ireland - and were a shadow of the side that impressed in spells at Windsor Park on Friday.

Dundalk looked fitter and stronger, a reflection of their full-time status compared to a visiting side that still operates in a part-time environment.

This is why the top clubs north of the border are at least open to a debate about an all-island league - they are curious about whether it can drive up their levels.

Georgie Kelly celebrates after putting Dundalk ahead. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Georgie Kelly celebrates after putting Dundalk ahead. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Linfield have the fanbase and potential to be a football force if Kieran Lucid's plan gained traction.

But they're well short of Dundalk's level at the moment and that is why the lesser lights north of the border are fearful of being swallowed up if the leagues were to merge. This drubbing will probably do more harm than good to Lucid's idea.

Unfortunate chants in both legs of this fixture highlight that there will always be idiots capable of generating negative publicity.

The desire to ensure things went off incident-free meant that Linfield fans were condemned to a security operation for this game which made bus travel mandatory. Their convoy got lost due to roadworks and they only arrived minutes before kick-off.

Michael Duffy controls the ball under pressure from Linfield's Bastien Héry. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Michael Duffy controls the ball under pressure from Linfield's Bastien Héry. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

All things considered, this was hardly an experience that is going to endear them to the idea of more frequent jaunts. That said, regular visitors to the substandard away section in Oriel Park could tell them that it's nothing personal.

Dundalk's need for a facility to match the quality of the team remains an obstacle to their progression.

An interesting winter lies ahead for Perth, with European advancement the priority.

There was a farewell theme to aspects of this demolition, with Jamie McGrath and Robbie Benson both on target.

Patrick Hoban heads in Dundalk's sixth goal. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Patrick Hoban heads in Dundalk's sixth goal. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Benson is bound for a reunion with Stephen O'Donnell at St Patrick's Athletic and confirmed afterwards that he had played his last game for the club, while McGrath is considering options in England.

Georgie Kelly is under contract but mulling over his future after playing second fiddle to Pat Hoban throughout the year. He was given the nod here and opened the scoring in the seventh minute after a rapid fire Dundalk counter.

Comical Linfield marking allowed Brian Gartland to head home the second before McGrath drove the third into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

That was game over. Benson was acclaimed by team-mates after a trademark effort, skipping through to chip the fourth over Rohan Ferguson before Kelly nodded a cross from Daniel Kelly into the net to complete a team move instigated by the rampant Michael Duffy.

The all-female officiating team, led by Women's World Cup final ref Stephanie Frappart, were not presiding over much of a contest.

Dundalk players celebrate after winning the Unite the Union Champions Cup over Linfield at Oriel Park. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dundalk players celebrate after winning the Unite the Union Champions Cup over Linfield at Oriel Park. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Duffy's corner was converted by sub Hoban to complete the rout, with a touch of comedy added to proceedings when Dundalk's PA announcer accidentally declared Chris Shields as the 'Unite the Nation' man of the match instead of the Unite the Union pick. He quickly realised his mistake and corrected it.

The slapstick nature of this second leg will lead to reflections about the future of cross-border competitions, yet it would be foolish to make rash judgements on the basis of this exercise. Linfield boss David Healy blamed his team selection, while repeating his view that a one-off match would be better.

On and off the park, there are lessons that all involved will have to consider.

Dundalk - McCarey, Gannon, Gartland, Cleary, Massey; Shields, Benson (Mountney 68); D Kelly, McGrath (Lotefa 74), Duffy; G Kelly (Hoban 79).

Linfield - Ferguson, Casement, Robinson (Allen 70), Callacher, Clarke; Mulgrew; Millar (Reynolds 78), Fallon, Hery, Quinn; Waterworth (Shevlin 78).

Referee - S Frappart (France).

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