Three was the magic number for Dundalk as they took on Galway United at Oriel Park. The SSE Airtricity League wound down with champions Dundalk lifting the trophy for a third successive time with a 4-1 win over their visitors.
The home side put three past United in the first half thanks to a Dean Shields brace and a Paddy Barrett pile-driver before Ryan Connolly bagged what proved to be a consolation goal for Galway in the second half.
Ciaran Kilduff put the icing on the cake with a breakaway goal in the third minute of injury time.
Applauded onto the pitch to a guard of honour from the visitors and the match officials -past the trophy they would inevitably be lifting regardless of the score- the home side started with a high tempo and always looked beyond their visitors.
Galway spoiled Dundalk’s party following their impressive victory against BATE Borisov earlier in their year, by beating the defending champions in Eamonn Deacy Park on their next league outing.
But, spurred on by an expectant and raucous crowd in the old Carrick Road venue, this side once again rose to the occasion –as has been their hallmark all year.
The prolific David McMillan came closest to opening the scoring early on. Occupying a rare berth on the right wing, he cut in and watched his shot from distance get flapped onto the crossbar by Galway Custodian, Conor Winn.
But the scoreless parity was broken on 13 minutes. A clever backheel from Ciaran Kilduff proved the undoing of the Galway defence, as he set Dean Shiels through on goal to power past Winn.
A calamitous error by Winn gifted Dundalk a second. Paddy Barrett’s hopeful effort spilled out of Winn’s arms and rolled past him into the net to make it two.
A third goal before half time heaped onto the carnival atmosphere – that and the Corduff Pipe Band’s renditions at the interval. Dean Shiels scored his second by clipping Benson’s pass over Winn from close range. The ball fizzed against the net with a satisfying fizz that would only be matched by the champagne on ice somewhere up the Oriel Park tunnel.
It wasn’t all one way. Galway did have their moments. In the first half, Cantwell and Folan combined well to orchestrate a clever effort from a corner that had keeper Gabriel Sava wrongfooted. Cantwell headed back across goal for the onrushing Folan, but he couldn’t convert.
The Tribesmen pulled one back and reiterated their intention to do more than merely honour this end of season fixture. They were industrious throughout and when Ryan Connolly was alert to poke home a straggling pass from Boyle to Sava, it was no less than the visitors deserved.
With the goals dished up and the result all but secured, there was an understandable lull in the intensity of the hosts. Robbie Benson volunteered himself as a sub with just under twenty minutes remaining due to a tweak he picked up from a challenge. The looming away trip to Russia no doubt on his mind.
Oriel Park and Dundalk got into full party mode when Ciaran Kilduff scored a breakaway goal with the last kick of the ball. The sound of the final whistle was still ringing in the air as the grateful fans poured onto the pitch to congratulate their heroes.
The hoisting aloft of the league trophy at Oriel Park for a third time in a row concludes this enthralling SSE Airtricity League of Ireland season. The Lilywhites have been worthy winners and defending champions and Cork City worthy opponents, counterfoils and surely the unluckiest side of the modern era to boot.
The domestic calendar still has one last big day circled on the calendar, in the form of the Daily Mail FAI Cup. Live football jukies across the island will be pleased to know; the Lilywhites have a minimum of two more Europa League matches in the build up to the festive period.
Dundalk FC: Gabriel Sava, Sean Gannon, Andy Boyle, Paddy Barrett, Dane Massey, Stephen O’Donnell (Brian Gartland 63), Daryl Horgan, Robbie Benson (Ciaran O’Connor 74), Dean Shiels (George Poynton 67), Ciaran Kilduff, David McMIllan.
Subs not used: Gary Rogers, Darren Meenan, Michael O’Connor, Keith Dalton.
Sent Off: None.
Galway United: Conor Winn, Paul Sinnott (Conor Melody 58), Gary Shanahan ( Jessee Devers 78), Armin Aganovic, Ryan Connolly, Killian Cantwell, Kevin Devaney, Padraic Cunningham (Vinny Faherty 58), Colm Horgan, Stephen Folan, Alex Byrne
Subs not used: Kevin Horgan, Jose Garcia, Gary Kinneen.
Booked: Byrne (57).
Sent Off: None.
Referee: Derek Tomney .
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Dean Shiels (Dundalk FC) .