Sheppard's brace fires Cork to a six-point lead
Cork City are starting to get into the habit of beating Dundalk and they extended their lead at the top of the League of Ireland Premier Division to six points after an efficient afternoon's work at Turner's Cross.
John Caulfield's side have triumphed in six of their last seven meetings with Stephen Kenny's defending champions and they now have 18 points from a possible 18, with an improved Leeside operation determined to improve on three successive second-placed finishes.
The key to this victory in front of a sell-out crowd of just over 6,700 was a first half where they were simply more switched on than a visiting side that lacks assurance at the back since the winter departure of Andy Boyle.
Cork's opener came from a visiting corner that broke down, with an error by Chris Shields allowing Stephen Dooley to release Sean Maguire, who outpaced Conor Clifford and sprinted to the end-line, where he squared for Karl Sheppard to convert.
Clifford was introduced early on after Robbie Benson was unable to continue after a clash of heads, but Cork were a patched-up operation, too, with key men Greg Bolger, Steven Beattie and John Dunleavy unavailable.
Caulfield shuffled the pack to good effect, with midfielder Jimmy Keohane reverting to right-back so Conor McCormack could step into the middle and do a job on Dundalk star Patrick McEleney.
The second Cork goal told the story of the half, with Caulfield's men more alert in general play. Arch-predator Maguire played the role of creator again, dropping short and then swivelling to attempt a through-ball, which caused a communication breakdown, with Dane Massey ponderous and Gary Rogers slow off his line. Sheppard nicked in between them to round the netminder and convert.
Dundalk's best efforts amounted to a vain penalty shout when Ciarán Kilduff went down in the box, but Kenny worked his bench in the second half and sub Dave McMillan halved the deficit with a left-footer from the edge of the box with 15 minutes remaining. They applied pressure, although a second yellow for Kilduff stiffened their task. Massey fired over their best chance to secure a point, leaving Kenny with plenty to ponder.
Cork City: McNulty, Keohane, Bennett, Delaney, O'Connor; McCormack, Morrissey; Sheppard, Buckley (Campion 75), Dooley (Griffin 90); Maguire (Ellis 89).
Dundalk: Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Barrett, Massey; Shields, Benson (Clifford 6; Stewart 54); Mountney (McMillan 69), McEleney, Duffy; Kilduff.
Referee: R Rogers (Dublin)
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