Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
Dundalk are now just two wins from claiming a fifth SSE Airtricity League in six years following what was a professional job that saw them record a hard-fought 1-0 win over Cork City on Friday.
Georgie Kelly was only on the pitch a matter of seconds when he turned home from Sean Gannon’s cross on 78 minutes with Dundalk now looking at the very real possibility of clinching the title against Shamrock Rovers – who held a 13-point advantage back in April – on September 23rd.
Dundalk made three changes from their 2-0 win at Sligo Rovers on Monday night as Daniel Cleary, Dean Jarvis and Robbie Benson all came in. Cork also made three alterations from their 2-1 defeat to Waterford on the same night with Colm Horgan, Ronan Hurley and Alec Byrne named in the team.
As expected, the Lilywhites dominated possession with Cork happy enough to sit back and frustrate Dundalk, who had by far the better of the first chances, but without ever really testing Tadgh Ryan.
Some lovely interplay between Sean Gannon and Jamie McGrath had resulted in Patrick Hoban firing his effort over the top after seven minutes of rugged and stubborn Cork City defending had elapsed.
To their credit, Cork had some half-chances of their own and Eoghan Stokes saw his shot deflected over the bar by Cleary, although nothing amounted from the two subsequent corners that followed.
Dundalk and the match were in dire need of a creative spark and Michael Duffy was allowed to take the ball a long, long way before Benson’s pop at goal was easily saved by the young hands of Ryan.
Ryan was fortunate to avoid what would have been an embarrassing concession from his point of view after that though when Gannon’s cross was deflected over the Cork goalkeeper, who had committed himself far too early, but luckily enough for him, the ball clipped the crossbar and over.
Another cross from Gannon was headed over by Hoban before at the other end, Daire O’Connor unleashed a shot which well over the bar with Gary Rogers a virtual spectator at this particular point.
That was until veteran striker Mark O’Sullivan got in behind the Dundalk defence, but Rogers – who has been linked with a move away from Oriel this week – handled the situation with relative ease.
The second half started much like the first and McEleney saw a free-kick go straight into the wall before Hoban’s dangerous looking cross flashed across goal with no white shirts able to get a touch.
Dundalk began to turn the screw and had three chances in quick succession just past the hour-mark.
Left-back Jarvis saw his shot sail just wide of the post and Ryan made a good save from McEleney’s shot from a tight angle before the Derry native saw another effort deflected out wide for a corner.
Ryan had little to do in the first period, but he certainly earned his stripes in the second, this time saving well from Hoban’s shot with 15 minutes left as Cork desperately tried to hang on for a point.
Cork’s resistance was finally broken 12 minutes from time when Gannon diverted the ball into the box and Georgie Kelly, who had just been introduced off the bench, tapped home from close range.
The Leesiders never looked likely to get back into the game after that and instead it was Dundalk who almost snatched a second in stoppage-time through efforts from both Daniel Kelly and Duffy.
One down, two to go for Dundalk, who can now practically smell another SSE Airtricity League title.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle, Dean Jarvis; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Daniel Kelly 68); Jamie McGrath (Georgie Kelly 77), Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (Cameron Dummigan 85).
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey, Lido Lotefa.
Booked: Patrick Hoban (26), Patrick McEleney (89).
Cork City: Tadgh Ryan; Colm Horgan, Conor McCarthy, Dan Casey, Ronan Hurley; Alec Byrne, Conor McCormack; Daire O’Connor (Darragh Crowley 87), Eoghan Stokes (Ben O'Brien-Whitmarsh 83), Shane Griffin; Mark O’Sullivan.
Subs not used: Mark McNulty, Alan Bennett, Pierce Phillips, Rory Doyle, Dale Holland.
Booked: Colm Horgan (48), Conor McCormack (65).
Referee: Ben Connolly.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Sean Gannon (Dundalk).