Dundalk began their defence of the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup with a professional if not vintage performance, as they overcame Shelbourne 2-0 at Oriel Park on Friday night.
Daryl Horgan was once again the catalyst in Dundalk’s latest success, providing the Oriel Park faithful with yet another virtuoso performance and a sublime opening goal, demonstrating why he is widely regarded as the best player in the country at the moment.
However, the real story of this match was the swift return of Ciaran Kilduff, who came off the bench to add Dundalk’s second late on, just four weeks after fracturing vertebrae in his back which was expected to keep him out for several months.
Though prior to kick-off, manager Stephen Kenny was taking nothing for granted against Shelbourne, who currently sit third in the First Division and fielded a strong team, making just four changes to the side that obliterated Finn Harps 7-0 in the league last weekend.
Shelbourne boss Kevin Doherty would have been desperate to avoid a repeat of their 5-0 humiliation at the hands of the eventual FAI Cup winners at the same stage of the competition last year, and he made just one change from last week’s defeat at Drogheda United.
The match was played in miserable conditions and the first quarter of an hour certainly reflected that with very little to report on, with Dundalk dominating the early exchanges but struggling to break down the Shelbourne rearguard.
The first real chance of the game also produced the opening goal just past the 20-minute mark when a magnificent pass from Robbie Benson, who was impressive throughout, found Horgan and his curling effort flew past the helpless Jack Brady and into the top corner.
Dundalk, now in complete control of the match, had another good effort just a few minutes later when a Darren Meenan corner was headed just over the bar by Benson, who has been on excellent form recently.
Sean Gannon’s attempted cross almost sailed into the net before a lovely interchange between Ronan Finn and Horgan, a feature of the night, saw the latter’s shot go narrowly wide of Brady’s post with half an hour played.
The closest Shelbourne came to scoring was shortly afterwards when Aidan Collins headed over from a free-kick but in truth, the side from Dublin failed to test Gabriel Sava at all throughout the match and he was virtually a spectator.
Horgan’s delightful ball then found Meenan, who was just onside, and his effort produced a decent save from Brady – the young goalkeeper was impressive on the night, keeping Dundalk at bay on several occasions.
David McMillan headed just wide from Meenan’s corner five minutes into the second half before Benson’s goalbound effort from 20 yards was deflected out for a corner by Adam O’Connor.
That was before chances from both Paddy Barrett and Chris Shields but then came the surprise introduction of Kilduff on 72 minutes, and he almost made an immediate impact as his header was cleared off the line.
Brady, who was definitely the pick of Shelbourne’s players, saved twice in the space of a few minutes from Finn and then Horgan before Gannon galloped forward and forced a corner with five minutes of normal time remaining.
And from that resulting corner from Meenan, Kilduff completed his dream return to the side with an outstanding acrobatic finish from just outside the six-yard box which sealed the victory for Dundalk and progression into the third round.
Dundalk: Gabriel Sava; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Paddy Barrett, Shane Grimes; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Georgie Poynton 86); Darren Meenan, Ronan Finn, Daryl Horgan (Michael O’Connor 89); David McMillan (Ciaran Kilduff 72).
Subs not used: Gary Rogers, John Mountney, Anton Reilly, Eric Whelan.
Yellow Cards: None
Shelbourne: Jack Brady; Gavin Boyne, Conor Keeley, Aidan Collins (Cian Kavanagh 84), Alan Kehoe; Lorcan Shannon (Carl Walshe 72), Daire Doyle (Sodiq Oguntola 81), Robert O’Reilly, Adam O’Connor, Jamie Doyle; James English.
Subs not used: Greg Murray, Ryan Robinson, Dylan Grimes, Dylan Kavanagh.
Yellow Cards: Alan Kehoe (72).
Referee: Robert Rogers
Attendance: 1,750 (estimate)
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Daryl Horgan (Dundalk)