Ciaran Callan at Finn Park
At the beginning of the season when Dundalk left Finn Harp in the hum of a rampant crowd who were delighted following a spirited one all draw you had the feeling that the SSE Airtricity League champions could be in for a rough patch as a gap already began to show at the summit of the league.
A lot has changed since that night with plenty of twists and turns still to come but one thing is for certain the second half of this season is going to set up a titanic tussle for the SSE Airtricity League title. Tonight the roles are reversed, Dundalk commanding and professional in their performance against a spirited Finn Harps side while in Tallaght Shamrock Rovers squandered a 2-0 lead to draw with Derry City. It seems both sides from the North West did favours for the men from the town.
Dundalk began their quest for three points with real vigour and earnest, a low cross from the right was sent into the area by Patrick Hoban but Michael Duffy hit the side netting. They continued the forward momentum with Patrick McEleney sending the ball into the area with a brilliant cross only for the ball to be nicked off Hoban’s his head at the vital time.
From a Finn Harps perspective set pieces where they provided the most danger to the Dundalk defence. A free kick sent dangerously in had to be met by Gartland alert to the oncoming danger to clear it off the line for a corner. Dundalk’s persistence paid off when a pinpoint cross by Mountney was headed by Duffy who made no mistake to send the away side in the lead and to score his 55th career goal. While the first was a piece of individual brilliance the second was a brilliant team goal. Patrick Hoban held the ball up excellently and laid it off to McEleney whose curling cross was met by Mountney and his header was parried into the net by McGinley.
The same minute Mountney’s goal settled into the back of the net, Junior was scrambling the ball home for Derry City to level the game in Tallaght, the balance of power in this season shifting once again.
The second half saw chances for both sides, Mark Coyle forced Rogers to pull off a smart save while Michael Duffy had to force the best of reaction saves from Mark McGinley to deny the winger his second on the night. The third Dundalk goal would come from familiar territory. Brian Gartland proved once again of his danger from a set piece as he powerfully headed home from a Michael Duffy corner to put further parity between the sides. Mikey Place looked set to open the account for the home side on the night only for his effort to go wide, in truth it looked easier to score than to hit the shot wide. Daniel O’Reilly forced a smart save from Rogers following cutting inside on his right foot and Rogers had to stretch to send the ball over for a corner. The final moments of the game almost saw a fourth as Georgie Kelly looking to get in on the act while in his home county saw his header smash off the crossbar following an excellent run and cross from Daniel Kelly.
The result tonight sees Dundalk now have a five-point lead at the top albeit a game in hand for Shamrock Rovers but will appease many doubters that who the last time the sides met would have begun to question this Dundalk sides hunger. Rest assured before this season is out we are in for many twists and turns that will make or break a season.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Daniel Cleary, Dane Massey, Jordan Flores, Chris Shields (Dylan Hand), Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy (Georgie Kelly), John Mountney (Daniel Kelly), Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey, Sean Hoare, Stephen Folan, Dean Jarvis.
Finn Harps: Mark Anthony McGinley, Daniel O’Reilly, Jacob Borg, Keith Cowan, Raff Cretaro (Nathan Boyle), Mark Russell, Mark Coyle, Mikey Place, Liam Walsh (Mark Timlin), Sam Todd, Niall Logue (Gareth Harkin).
Subs not used: Peter Burke, Colm Deasy, Stephen Doherty, Tony McNamee.
Booked: Mark Russell