Niall Newberry reports from the UCD Bowl
Now seemingly on the verge of the title, Dundalk extended their unbeaten run in the SSE Airtricity League to 19 matches after thrashing a not-so-clever UCD outfit 5-0 in Belfield on Friday night.
Two headed goals in the first half from Daniel Cleary and Sean Hoare had put the Lilywhites in cruise-control before second half goals from Michael Duffy, Georgie Kelly and a second header from Cleary late on ensured a comfortable win for Vinny Perth’s side.
Last year’s double winners now need just five wins from their last eight fixtures to mathematically guarantee their fifth Premier Division title in six years.
In what was a rather unusual occurrence, this was the second time the sides met in the space of a week, with Dundalk again thrashing the hapless Students 3-0 at Oriel Park last Monday.
And they had the luxury of making seven changes from that victory with Gary Rogers, Sean Hoare, Patrick McEleney and Jamie McGrath being the only four players to have started in both matches.
UCD made three alterations with Conor Kearns returning from a lengthy suspension in goal, while Harry McEvoy and one-time Dundalk forward Sam Byrne replaced Dan Tobin and Richie O’Farrell.
Dundalk took the lead inside 13 minutes when Sean Murray’s corner was headed home by Cleary, who was also on the scoresheet in last week’s FAI Cup win over Derry City.
The Lilywhites doubled their advantage just four minutes later in what was almost a carbon copy of the first goal – the only difference being that Murray’s corner was powered home by the head of Hoare.
The Students’ best chance of the night came through Jason McClelland, who flashed a shot wide.
Georgie Kelly – who joined Dundalk from UCD just over a year ago – was named in the starting line-up ahead of Patrick Hoban and the Donegal man was on the end of two chances before the break.
First, he headed over from Cameron Dummigan’s cross from the right before his shot was well blocked by defender Luke Boore following what was an excellent through-ball from McEleney.
Another former UCD player, Robbie Benson made his long-awaited return from injury off the bench and from another Murray corner, he got a touch on the ball which was then cleared off the line.
Right on the stroke of half-time, Benson cleverly pulled a free-kick back to McEleney, whose resulting shot fizzed agonisingly wide of Kearns’ near post as Dundalk looked to extend their lead.
The second half saw few chances, but the introduction of Duffy added some much-needed flair.
He picked the ball up well outside the danger area before advancing, leaving the otherwise impressive Liam Scales for dead before rifling past Kearns to add what was Dundalk’s killer third.
Dundalk got their fourth goal in the 90th minute when the outstanding Cleary floated a cross into the box that was headed home by the unmarked Georgie Kelly to score against his former club.
Cleary rubber-stamped his man-of-the-match display, whilst compounding UCD’s misery in stoppage-time when he headed home his second and Dundalk’s fifth of the night from Duffy’s corner.
UCD: Conor Kearns; Harry McEvoy, Luke Boore, Liam Scales, Evan Farrell; Dara Keane (Richie O’Farrell 82), Jack Keaney; Liam Kerrigan, Yousef Mahdy (Ciaran Behan 75), Jason McClelland; Sam Byrne.
Subs not used: Gavin Sheridan, Aaron McGrath, Isaac Akinsete, Dan Mullen, James Daly.
Booked: Jack Keaney (40).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Cameron Dummigan, Daniel Cleary, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Sean Murray (Michael Duffy 66); Daniel Kelly (Patrick Hoban 76), Patrick McEleney, Jamie McGrath (Robbie Benson 30); Georgie Kelly.
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Dean Jarvis.
Referee: Ray Matthews.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Daniel Cleary (Dundalk).