Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
Dundalk easily progressed to the last eight of the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup for the eighth year in succession following a comfortable 2-0 win over First Division outfit Finn Harps on Friday at Oriel Park.
Goals in either half from Ronan Murray and Georgie Kelly ensured that the Lilywhites will take their place in the draw for the quarter-finals, which takes place this coming Monday evening.
With next Tuesday’s rescheduled league fixture against Shamrock Rovers in mind, Stephen Kenny made no fewer than seven changes from the side that won at Sligo Rovers just four days previously.
Finn Harps manager Ollie Horgan was perhaps understandably far from optimistic coming into this tie with the objective, by his own admission, to avoid a “hiding” against the Premier Division leaders.
He made three changes from last week’s come-from-behind league win over Athlone Town with Niall Logue, Tommy McBride and Mark Timlin all taking their place in the starting XI.
Harps have a wretched record against Dundalk in recent times, but they had the game’s first chance when Timlin curled a free-kick which had stand-in Dundalk ‘keeper Gabriel Sava scrambling.
The Lilywhites seemingly woke up following that scare and John Mountney rattled the crossbar minutes later before Ronan Murray went close with a dipping free-kick which sailed just over.
Dundalk went close again when Dylan Connolly went through on the right flank before squaring it to Georgie Kelly, but the former UCD forward’s tame effort was easily saved by Ciaran Gallagher.
The hosts were then awarded what looked to be a soft penalty when one-time Maltese international Jakup Borg was adjudged to have fouled Dane Massey in the box, much to the dismay of Horgan.
Murray, who scored twice in the previous round, stepped up to take the penalty and confidently dispatched even though Gallagher had guessed correctly as Dundalk took the lead after 24 minutes.
Dundalk were now looking to kill the tie off as a contest and Sean Gannon scampered down the right before finding the advancing Mountney, but his effort was straight at the Finn Harps goalkeeper.
The hosts were reasonably comfortable at this stage but Sava had to be alert to make a decent stop after Timlin had got in behind the defence before finding himself one-on-one with the Dundalk netminder.
Gannon came close to scoring a real goal of the season contender shortly before the break when a diagonal ball from Sean Hoare was met by a first-time volley that could only find the roof of the net.
Dundalk doubled their advantage seven minutes into the second half. A ball over the top released Murray down the left and his pinpoint cross was met by the head of Kelly, who made no mistake from close range to score what was his first goal in Dundalk colours.
Still incensed by referee Paul McLaughlin’s earlier decision to award the hosts a penalty, Horgan received his marching orders to the main stand at Oriel, where he remained every bit as vocal.
Connolly had two chances to make it three for Dundalk in the closing stages but the Lilywhites had to settle for just the two goals as they progress to the quarter-finals for the eighth year in succession.
Dundalk:Gabriel Sava; Sean Gannon (Stephen Folan 89), Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary, Dane Massey; John Mountney, Dean Jarvis; Dylan Connolly, Patrick McEleney (Michael Duffy 76), Ronan Murray; Georgie Kelly (Patrick Hoban 84).
Subs not used:Gary Rogers, Chris Shields, Robbie Benson, Jamie McGrath.
Finn Harps:Ciaran Gallagher; Jakup Borg, Keith Cowan, Niall Logue, Ciaran Coll; John Kavanagh (Jesse Devers 78), Tommy McBride (Mikey Place 65), Gareth Harkin, Mark Timlin; Mark Coyle, Nathan Boyle (Tunmise Sobowale 65).
Subs not used:Peter Burke, Aidan Friel, Paddy McCourt, John O’Flynn.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match:Ronan Murray (Dundalk).