Gritty Cork extend perfect home record to move top
Cork City 1 Dundalk 0
It was an ugly game but, for Cork City, it provided a beautiful result as they moved back to the top of the League of Ireland by ending Dundalk's unbeaten record.
They did it with grit rather than style. John Caulfield's side are three clear at the summit because of their ability to eke out results in front of their own fans.
The Leesiders have a 100pc record at Turner's Cross this season and have yet to concede a goal here. There were spells in this match where that record looked to be under threat, but Caulfield's men held out against opponents that were incapable of capitalising on spells in Cork territory.
Their manager Stephen Kenny was unimpressed with the overall quality of the game and the playing surface, and described Cork's approach as 'very direct.' "I thought we had progressed as top teams and we should be doing more," he said.
Caulfield hit back by arguing that Dundalk's approach in the final quarter was one-dimensional.
"Maybe if Stephen looks at the last 20 minutes, he'll see they played 20-30 balls from the halfway line," he said. "I've a job to do here. We've been free-flowing in the last couple of years, and we lost the best goalscorer there probably has been in the history of the league (in Seán Maguire). I wish people would talk up the league rather than slagging me off."
For Caulfield, the real positive is the age profile of the back four who dealt with Dundalk's threat with Colm Horgan (23), Sean McLoughlin (21), Danny Kane (21) and Conor McCarthy (20) all relatively new faces.
Local lads McLoughlin and McCarthy are good friends that have struck up a centre-half partnership of long-term potential although interest from overseas is a threat to its survival.
This was a big step forward in their development, with Caulfield keeping winter recruit Aaron Barry and returning veteran Alan Bennett on the bench.
Defeat at Oriel Park in March hurt the Leesiders and they were determined to respond here with the crowds queueing outside the ground two hours before kick-off indicative of the fact that this was a match of real significance.
But the first half was hard going on a poor pitch for the 6,672 in attendance, with the tone set from a fractious opening where crunching tackles were the only real points of note.
Sean Gannon went into the book for a clumsy foul on Danny Kane following a loss of footing, and it came at a price for the culprit who looked to be in discomfort for the rest of the half and was eventually replaced.
The ball was enduring a hard time of it too, with neither side capable of getting it down and playing in a congested midfield battle. Cork did start quite well in terms of applying some pressure on the Dundalk back four and they did fashion a couple of opportunities to shoot from distance.
They lost their way a bit from there, though, with Dundalk on top as the interval approached. Certainly, there was an opportunity there for the away side given that Caulfield's defensive experimentation was added to by a setback for Shane Griffin which opened the door for Irish U-21 international Kane to make a first league start.
Meanwhile, at right full, Colm Horgan, the brother of ex-Dundalk man Daryl, was immersed in a battle with Michael Duffy. He curled the ball wide of the post from the best move of the 45 - the competition was limited - with John Mountney creating the opportunity.
Daniel Cleary did hit the post with a header from Duffy's free, but it was grim fare overall. Pat Hoban was clattered by Conor McCormack just before the halfway point and emerged with a Terry Butcher-style head bandage for the second half. It was an appropriate accessory for this type of contest.
The decisive moment came just before the hour mark, with Garry Buckley's introduction in place of Jimmy Keohane energising Cork. Buckley can take up good attacking positions and he was well placed to fire a Karl Sheppard cross against the bar. Barry McNamee's header kept the chance alive and a clearance from Cleary was volleyed first-time past Rogers by the left foot of Gearóid Morrissey. For Dundalk, it was a first concession on their league travels in 2018.
Suddenly, Turner's Cross was alive again. Sheppard slipped in behind Hoare to fire a cross over the bar with Dundalk rattled.
Attention did gradually shift to the other end, with Ronan Murray brought in to help out Hoban. Kenny's side did manage to spend a fair bit of time in Cork's half, but their manager admitted that they found it hard to pass the ball due to the ability of Caulfield's men to close them down.
They benefited from some breaking ball when Robbie Benson got loose in the penalty area, before flashing an attempt into the stands. Duffy was also subdued by Horgan and switched sides late on when Dylan Connolly came in.
Dundalk ran out of ideas, with McLoughlin and man of the match McCarthy maintaining their discipline under pressure. For McCarthy, it was especially sweet as he had struggled in the Oriel encounter.
It's a contrast from 12 months ago when Maguire was ripping defences to shreds, but a much-changed Cork side are finding different ways to win. The habit could take them a long way.
CORK CITY - McNulty, Horgan, McLoughlin, McCarthy, Kane; McCormack, Morrissey; McNamee (Sadlier 80), Keohane (Buckley 58), Sheppard; Cummins (O'Hanlon 88).
DUNDALK - Rogers; Gannon (Folan 45), Hoare, Cleary, Massey; Shields, Benson; Mountney (Connolly 82), McGrath (Murray 66), Duffy; Hoban.
REF - N Doyle (Dublin)