Monday 20 May 2019

Hoban breaks record to kick off Dundalk's night of celebrations

Dundalk 1 St Patrick's Athletic 1

An emotional Patrick Hoban celebrates after scoring Dundalk’s title-clinching goal Oriel Park. Photo: Sportsfile
An emotional Patrick Hoban celebrates after scoring Dundalk’s title-clinching goal Oriel Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It was the fitting finish to a season where Dundalk have delivered when it really mattered.

Stephen Kenny's side were minutes away from a surreal form of coronation.

Dundalk players celebrate. Photo: Sportsfile
Dundalk players celebrate. Photo: Sportsfile

A defeat to St Patrick's Athletic would have kicked off a night of celebration in anti-climactic fashion.

It was Cork's failure to beat Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght which was effectively sealing the deal until the new champions took matters into their own hands with playmaker Patrick McEleney creating the opportunity for Patrick Hoban to clinically dispatch the equaliser.

In doing so, the Galwegian broke the all-time Premier Division goalscoring record by registering his 26th league strike of a remarkable season.

His return to Ireland has played a significant part in Kenny's charges retaining their crown. "That's a great way to win it," said Kenny. "Pat's been getting a lot of late goals."

Dundalk supporters celebrate. Photo: Sportsfile
Dundalk supporters celebrate. Photo: Sportsfile

This particular last-ditch attempt succeeding in giving energy to the full-time pitch invasion.

It coincided with a press release from Dundalk's new American owners that was evidently prepared in advance.

Teamwork

"This is the first title in any sport for PEAK6," said chairman Mike Treacy.

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny leads the celebrations. Photo: Sportsfile
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny leads the celebrations. Photo: Sportsfile

"We believe success is achieved through teamwork and investment in people, and we hope this is the first of many titles to come."

The prospect of further investment will certainly make life difficult for the chasing pack.

And within an hour of full-time, the club announced that star winger Michael Duffy - whose form has led him to change his international allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic after a call from Martin O'Neill - had signed a new two-year deal.

Their title defence is already under way. The ex-Celtic winger was a man in demand.

St Patrick's Athletic's Conan Byrne and Dundalk's John Mountney challenge for the ball. Photo: Sportsfile
St Patrick's Athletic's Conan Byrne and Dundalk's John Mountney challenge for the ball. Photo: Sportsfile

Any suspense around the outcome of this year's renewal was illusory. Dundalk knew the job was done when they prevailed against Derry 10 days ago, and their flatness in this game was evidence of that.

Last week, they booked their place in November's FAI Cup final and a double-winning attempt will be the focus now, although Kenny will allow his players to celebrate this weekend before turning minds to the Aviva showpiece.

The recharging of batteries is needed.

St Patrick's Athletic played their part here and had travelled with a bit of a point to prove after the departure of Liam Buckley following seven years in charge. His exit left Kenny as the longest-serving boss in the league.

Ger O'Brien, a senior figure in the 2013 league win as a player, has taken the reins as caretaker boss and this was his opportunity to show what he could offer. The rookie impressed.

He tweaked their set-up by reverting from a back three to a back four and dispatching regular centre-half Lee Desmond to a holding midfield role next to Jamie Lennon, with stifling McEleney's influence the priority.

They did survive an early scare when Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney both struck the woodwork in a frenetic passage of play that actually cost Dundalk the services of Benson due to a shin injury.

That affected their rhythm for a spell and the Saints were reasonably successful in terms of keeping white shirts out of the final third.

Indeed, there was a scare for the hosts when Daniel Cleary's complacent pass set up a Saints counter against the run of play but the defender atoned for his error with a last-ditch block to deny ex-Lilywhite Conor Clifford.

But Clifford's work was far from done and he silenced the natives seven minutes after the restart with a goal that stemmed from a foul by Benson's replacement John Mountney.

Dundalk's set-piece defending was shabby and it fashioned the opportunity for Clifford to slot home from eight yards.

That drained further life out of a subdued crowd that came anticipating a routine success.

The ineffective Dylan Connolly was replaced by Ronan Murray in an attempt by Kenny to stir things up.

And the former Galway United player did make an impact in forcing a series of set-pieces as the clock ticked down.

The Saints were sturdy, though, and Kenny went for broke at the death by withdrawing Cleary and sending on striker Georgie Kelly.

He made an impact by giving the away defence an extra body to think about and McEleney found the room to thread a pass for Hoban to do the rest.

Dundalk - Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Cleary (Kelly 88), Massey; Shields, Benson (Mountney 12); Connolly (Murray 67), McEleney, Duffy; Hoban.

St Pat's - Clarke; Madden, Leahy, Toner, Bermingham; Desmond, Lennon; Byrne, Clifford (K Brennan 84), R Brennan; Keegan

REF - R Harvey (Dublin)

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