In the battle of last season’s top two side, it was Dundalk who left Inchicore with a crucial three points as St Pat’s indifferent start to their title defence continues after this 4-1 reverse.
It was the home side who took a first half lead with a composed Chris Forrester finish after a defensive mix up, but Dundalk hit back after the break and before taking the lead through fine goals from John Mountney and Daryl Horgan. David McMillan and Sean Gannon added the extras late on after Greg Bolger saw red for the home side as did Killian Brennan after the full time whistle.
It was the visitors who came out the brighter in sunny south Dublin with Brian Gartland and Chris Shields both having efforts directed off the mark inside the opening four minutes. A sluggish Saints were then almost caught out with a ball in behind for John Mountney and his superb cut-back was brilliantly blocked by Ger O’Brien from Daryl Horgan’s attempt.
Slowly but surely though the champions began to find the rhythm that made them such an irresistible outfit last year, but were oft met with resolute defending from the visitors who were rarely troubled.
It took 21 minutes before the first real chance of the game presented itself and even then, when the ball broke to Dane Massey on the edge of the Pat’s penalty area, his outside of the boot volley that sailed over was always going to be a difficult skill to put into practice.
Moments later came St Pat’s first chance of the game when Conan Byrne sent a delicious free kick to the back post for Greg Bolger, but his low shot was saved well by the legs of Peter Cherrie. The home side then had strong handball appeals waved away when they had a goalbound effort from Christy Fagan knocked clear.
That spell seemed to galvanise the hosts who restricted Dundalk to a wayward Stephen O’Donnell shot from range in the aftermath. Galvanised they were and the Saints took the lead after 29 minutes with a complete mix up between Cherrie and Gartland.
A long ball forward saw the ‘keeper retreat to the right of his area to collect, but the ball never made it to him as Gartland stuck a toe on it from the edge of the area. The ball fell it into the path of Forrester and with the Scotsman stranded far from goal, he rolled in from outside the box with a shot that was harder than it looked.
Killian Brennan and Massey then both had curling free kicks comfortably saved in the minutes which followed, before a Pat’s mix up saw the ball fall kindly for Mountney who thrashed his strike narrowly wide of the far post.
A tame Towell strike signalled the start of the second half and within five minutes of the restart, The Town were back on level terms. Shields won a free kick 30 yards from goal and Mountney stepped up to drill a sweet strike low into the bottom corner past the diving Brendan Clarke.
From there, a slight edginess came into proceedings with Dundalk pressing and probing in the opposition territory. Their pressure paid off with little under half an hour remaining when they turned the game completely in their favour.
Hoban fed Daryl Horgan on the edge of the box and he let fly with a sumptuous strike that sailed into the corner of the net via the post. He stood still soaking up the praise of his teammates afterwards, perhaps drinking in his moment of brilliance in front of the live television cameras.
Towell had a good effort blocked afterwards while Saints threw on Keith Fahey and Daryl Kavanagh as they looked to get back in it but their efforts were dealt a serious blow when Greg Bolger saw red for a robust slide challenge on Andy Boyle.
At first glance, he seemed to get the ball but the follow through certainly rattled the former Shelbourne defender and the ex-Dundalk himself marched straight off the field before even been showing the colour of the card.
Three minutes from time, the game was ended as Dundalk added a deserved third when Towell set up substitute McMillan on the edge of the area. The former UCD striker pivoted before sending a low strike calmly into the corner of the net against his old club..
It got worse for Pat’s in stoppage tie and it was one of their own who came back to haunt them. After a good 90 seconds of Dundalk ball retention (with every successful pass cheered by the visitors), Gannon popped up at the back post to volley home Daryl Horgan’s cross with the side of his foot and sent Dundalk back up the M1 with maximum points.
St Patrick’s Ath: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien (c), Derek Foran, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham; Greg Bolger; Chris Forrester (Daryl Kavanagh 73), Killian Brennan; Conan Byrne (Sean Hoare 77), Mark Quigley (Keith Fahey 63); Christy Fagan.
Subs not used: Patrick Jennings, Lee Lynch, James Chambers, Conor McCormack.
Booked: Browne (36)
Sent Off: Bolger (74), Brennan (90+3)
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Stephen O’Donnell (C) (Ruaidhri Higgins 93); John Mountney (Darren Meenan 80), Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan; Patrick Hoban (David McMillan 74).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Mark Rossiter, Marc Griffin, Kurtis Byrne.
Booked: Mountney (52), Shields (68), Towell (72), Meenan (84).
Referee: Padraigh Sutton (Clare).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Stephen O’Donnell (Dundalk).