Seanie Maguire lays down marker in front of O'Neill and Keane with hat-trick as Cork rout champions Dundalk
Dundalk 0-3 Cork City
Cork City have one hand on the SSE Airtricity League trophy after Sean Maguire’s hat-trick at Oriel park propelled them an incredible 18 points clear at the top of the table.
With Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane back on Irish soil and watching on from the stands, Maguire gave an exhibition in how to lead the line, tormenting Niclas Vemmelund and Paddy Barrett with his movement and link-up play.
More importantly, he pulled the plug on Dundalk’s title defence with three classy finishes to take his tally to 16 goals in as many games.
John Caulfield’s side are now that far in front of the chasing pack that even if Maguire, as expected, departs for the UK and they suffer an improbable Devon Loch-style collapse, they would still have enough in the tank to recover and get over the line with plenty to spare.
Just eight seconds had elapsed when the 23-year-old had his ex-team-mates concerned. Karl Sheppard took possession on the bye-line and picked out Maguire who flashed an effort into the side-netting.
Dundalk ramped it up after that and David McMillan fired wide from outside the box after a Johnny Dunleavy header fell kindly into his path.
The natives continued to try and set the tempo and a fantastic reverse pass from Patrick McEleney found McMillan in space on the left of the Cork penalty area in the 13th minute but there was nobody in a white shirt to apply the finishing touch to his cutback.
Cork responded like champions and they drew first blood in the 19th minute with Maguire involved from start to finish.
Some quick feet on the edge of the Dundalk penalty area saw him flick the ball into Stephen Dooley and head for the danger zone.
Dooley fed Karl Sheppard on the right and his low centre was bang on the money, Maguire sweeping home to bank his 14th goal of the season.
Dundalk struggled to shake the cobwebs away and Ryan Delaney had a header hacked clear off the line by Jamie McGrath with Gary Rogers beaten.
Lacking the fluidity and composure they showed in the early stages, the hosts hit a brick wall in the final third. When they did show a glimpse of a threat on the counter-attack, Conor McCormack was there to snuff out McEleney’s charge.
Cork looked the more likely and Maguire squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to make it 2-0 when he miscued from 12 yards after Jimmy Keohane had worked the opening.
Caulfield would have been livid if his side had failed to go in ahead at the break. That should have been the case but Massey headed a Duffy corner wide despite being given the freedom of the City six-yard box.
Dundalk were on high alert again just three minutes into the second period. Maguire picked the ball up in a pocket of space 25 yards from goal and let fly but Rogers turned it around the post.
The groans from the home crowd grew louder when McGrath screwed a shot horribly wide after bamboozling Bennett to create the chance.
Mark McNulty was called into action for the first time in the 66th minute. McEleney’s lay-off invited Robbie Benson to shoot, the City goalkeeper back-pedalling to turn the curling drive over the top.
It looked like Dundalk were finally finding some thrust but Maguire landed the knockout blow in the 70th minute. John Dunleavy’s quick thinking led to the goal, the full-back throwing the ball off the back of Jimmy Keohane before swinging in a cross for Maguire to glance home.
And the Leesiders rammed home their superiority in stoppage time when Maguire claimed his hat-trick with a cool finish after a mistake by Massey.
Game, set, match and surely the title.
Dundalk – Rogers; Gannon, Barrett, Vemmelund, Massey; Shields (O’Donnell 68), Benson; Duffy (Kilduff 75), McEleney, McGrath(Stewart 65); McMillan.
Cork City – McNulty; Dunleavy, Bennett, Delaney, O’Connor; Morrissey (Bolger 83), McCormack; Dooley (Griffin 76), Keohane, Sheppard (Beattie 80); Maguire.
Ref – P McLaughlin