When Dundalk beat Cork City 4-0 at Oriel Park in 2014, the scoreline reflected the one sided nature of the game. On that occasion Dundalk brushed through City in a blistering first half which saw the home side 3-0 up inside 35 minutes as Dundalk got top spot on the Friday of the May bank holiday weekend.
The match was the beginning of something, the first of the Stephen Kenny and John Caulfield managerial clashes, and the start of a rivalry that has been compelling viewing since then.
For Dundalk, 2014 was a season with one aim and that was the title. Having finished three points behind St. Patrick’s Athletic in 2013, this was the season when Kenny had to push on and deliver on the favorites tag.
For City, it was a process of rebuilding back then as their new manager John Caulfield was tasked with taking the club back into Europe for the first time since 2008. The picture couldn’t be more different as the two managers shook hands and parted in May 2014.
The next time they would meet at Oriel Park, City needed just a point to win the title. It was quite a turn of form as Dundalk had let a 12 point lead slip to allow City into top spot into the last game of the season. In similar circumstances back in 1990, Dundalk beat City 1-0 at Turners Cross to prevent City from winning the title for the first time in the club’s history.
In 2014 there was a repeat of history as Brian Gartland and Stephen O’Donnell netted to give Dundalk the win but this time round it sealed the deal for Dundalk and the league title.
From that night in Oriel, two pictures stand out. One of a man released in the fervor and excitement of the title win in which Kenny proudly holds the metre high trophy following an accomplished season. The other one, separated by a matter of metres yet a world apart, Caulfield appears isolated and alone. This wasn’t the end he would later remark.
Four seasons later, City and Dundalk have met each other a combined 20 times across all competitions. The town and city are 350km from one another and yet seemed intertwined and woven to the fabric of the Irish game.
In 2015 the sides met in the FAI Cup Final, on a day where it took Richie Towell’s 117thminute strike to capture the double for Dundalk. In 2016 Dundalk where denied a Double Double as Sean Maguire scored a last kick of the game winner to capture the FAI Cup for Cork City.
The Rebel Army regrouped and claimed the double themselves in 2017, as Dundalk missed out on four-in-a-row. Kenny rebuilt and regained the trophies though this season – picking up their second double in five years.
In Europe Dundalk have had the upper hand when comparing results. Dundalk’s run to the UEFA Europa League group stages in 2016 captivated the Irish footballing public.
City’s run in the third round qualifiers that summer saw them knocked out by eventual quarter finalists KRC Genk. While Dundalk became the first Irish side to win a group stage clash in Europe, City’s youths became the first to win a tie ever in the UEFA Youth League.
Players from both sides would make the break from the club’s and also into the Republic of Ireland team. City’s star striker Sean Maguire, Dundalk’s Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle all earned caps.
This season City missed out on a three in a row cup success and so Shamrock Rovers remain the only club to have managed that feat (and on multiple occasions).
Even if City had done the three in a row, it still wouldn’t have been seen as enough in the context of their rivalry with Dundalk. The league title was in demand and even with 77 points (a tally which would win a title on any given season in Ireland), this still wasn’t enough. Dundalk celebrated getting “our trophy back”.
The goal for the Lilywhites is a return to the group stages of European completion and by being champions that gives them the very best route – with a seeding that will certainly help when the draw roles around next June. City continue to dream of latter rounds football but qualification to the group stages through the Europa League route is a much harder journey.
Both clubs have dominated the trophies on offer in the last five years, with the Oriel Park trophy cabinet seeing most action. The two teams will likely go head-to-head next season but the Peak 6 financial clout may continue to give Dundalk the edge. Where will this rivalry take these teams next season?