Friday 20 July 2018

'I'm proud we didn't give up title tamely'

Finn Harps 0 Dundalk 2

Brian Gartland (centre) is congratulated by Thomas Stewart( left) and Robbie Benson afer scoring Dundalk’s first goal in Ballybofey. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Brian Gartland (centre) is congratulated by Thomas Stewart( left) and Robbie Benson afer scoring Dundalk’s first goal in Ballybofey. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Chris McNulty

They've worn the crown so well over the last three seasons, Dundalk were never going to voluntarily abdicate.

Even if Stephen Kenny did give an evening off to several of his Dundalk stars, with tomorrow's FAI Cup semi-final replay at Shamrock Rovers in mind, the Lilywhites could still introduce David McMillan, Stephen O'Donnell and Michael Duffy from the bench.

In the end, Brian Gartland and Jamie McGrath netted to secure the victory over relegation-threatened Finn Harps that keeps the title race going, for another few days at least.

"It was important for us," Kenny said. "We've been champions for the last three years so it was important not to surrender our title like that - tamely. The players showed good attitude.

Dundalk's Thomas Stewart in action against Sean Houston of Finn Harps. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Dundalk's Thomas Stewart in action against Sean Houston of Finn Harps. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

"We had to manage the squad somewhat, but we kept a clean sheet, which gave us a platform to go and win the game really well."

With Patrick McEleney and Niclas Vemmelund not in the squad and others rested, Kenny handed debuts to Jake O'Connor and Carlton Ubaezuonu and it took Dundalk until the 66th minute to break the resistance of stubborn Harps.

Gartland rose to head home from a well-delivered McGrath corner and punish slack marking.

The hosts fumed to referee Paul Tuite at the end that Sean Houston should have been awarded a free-kick in the lead-up to the awarding of the corner.

"Everybody, including I, felt that Stephen O'Donnell pulled Sean back," sighed Harps boss Ollie Horgan.

"Regardless, they didn't score direct from it. We should have dealt with Brian Gartland and we didn't. We should have defended it better, but it was a massive decision in the game."

Dundalk's Carlton Ubaezuonu is tackled by Sean Houston of Finn Harps. Photo:
Dundalk's Carlton Ubaezuonu is tackled by Sean Houston of Finn Harps. Photo:

Kenny, though was unconvinced, as he shrugged: "It wasn't a clear-cut free anyway. It would have been a soft free."

Harps had a glorious chance to open the scoring in the 23rd minute. Eddie Dsane profited from a mix-up between Gartland and keeper Gary Rogers on the edge of the box, but fired wide of a gaping goal.

Horgan said: "It was a great chance. You get very few chances against Dundalk. It was an open goal. It wasn't a simple tap-in, but you won't get a better chance against the likes of Dundalk."

Harps midfielder Mark Timlin was fortunate to escape a red card for an over-the-top foul on Dylan Connolly in the first half.

Alert

Harps keeper Ciaran Gallagher saved well from Thomas Stewart and was alert to deny Ubaezuonu. Just after the break, Gallagher kept out Sean Gannon's powerful attempt, but Gartland finally broke the stalemate.

Dundalk's Michael Duffy and Gareth Harkin of Finn Harps battle for the ball. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Dundalk's Michael Duffy and Gareth Harkin of Finn Harps battle for the ball. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

With the final kick of the game, in the 95th minute, McGrath broke away and floated a delicious chip past Gallagher for the second.

Kenny said: "Jamie showed a different side. He was more aggressive and combative.

"It's been a test coming to Dundalk and it's about developing other qualities. It was a brilliant finish. Not many players could do what he did for that goal."

Finn Harps - Gallagher; McNulty, Cantwell, Coll, Harkin; Boyle (Keita 80), Houston, McBride, Timlin; McCourt (McAleer 55); Dsane (Banda 74).

Dundalk - Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Grimes; Benson, McGrath; Connolly (Duffy 80), O'Connor (O'Donnell 61), Ubaezuonu (McMillan 56); Stewart.,

REF - P Tuite (Dublin).

Irish Independent

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