Dundalk maintained their early position at the summit of SSE Airtricity League Premier Division with a comfortable 3–0 win over Finn Harps in ideal conditions at Oriel Park this evening.
Dundalk began applying the pressure from the off in Oriel Park. The first real chance of note fell to Patrick McEleney on three minutes. Daryl Horgan fed a ball in behind down the right hand side for the stretching Sean Gannon. His ball across found McEleney in the six-yard box, but his shot was deflected and scrambled clear by the Harps defence.
Just as Finn Harps looked like they were settling into the game, Dundalk winger Daryl Horgan found space in the box and cut in on his preferred right foot. His well hit shot was acrobatically saved by visiting ‘keeper Richard Brush.
The signs were ominous and from the resulting corner, Paddy Barrett rose to head a 16th minute opener in off the far post from Darren Meenan’s pinpoint corner.
Barrett then nearly added to his, and his sides account two minutes later from another Meenan delivery. At this point it looked as if it was going to be a tough night for the Donegal men.
Dundalk winger Darren Meenan in particular was giving his marker Ciaran Coll a torrid time of it down the right hand side and it was down that flank that the majority of the attacking traffic was flowing, with Sean Gannon sporadically making his trade mark marauding runs.
The home crowd where forced into a warm applause soon after when fan favourite Chris Shields tried an audacious 35-yard half volley which went straight at Brush, followed by Daryl Horgan’s mazy run which was halted at the final hurdle as he prepared to shoot at Brush.
They couldn’t have come much closer to extending their lead on the stroke of the interval though as McEleney’s delicate header hit the post with the impressive Paddy Barrett, deputising for Brian Garland unable to knock in the rebound.
The second period began where the first half had ended with Dundalk seemingly in the ascendency, however, on a rare breakaway Ryan Curran nearly levelled the game. As Gary Rogers stood rooted, he watched the frontman’s effort go narrowly off target much to the palpable dismay of the home crowd.
In Ciaran Kilduff, Dundalk have a striker who is looking very potent at this early stage of the season. He was causing problems for the central defensive duo of the visitors and he almost forced Damien McNulty into directing a clearance into his own net.
However, Dundalk got their second goal of the game just short of the hour mark. Patrick McEleney sweetly met a Horgan cross to fire in first time past the despairing dive of Richard Brush from the edge of the box.
It was the first competitive goal that the former Derry City man has scored in front of his new home supporters. It’s a sign of things to come according to the PA announcer who called him a “super player” when announcing his strike, illustrating how much of an impact he has made in his short time at the club.
That seemed to knock the stuffing out of Finn Harps as the goal scorer McEleney and Ronan Finn began feeding each other with intricate play, however, Dundalk generally couldn’t produce the final ball to finish Harps off.
Finn Harps striker Ryan Curran was the hero in Ballybofey last weekend with his goal proving the winner against North-West rivals Derry City. However, this week his luck dramatically changed as a Horgan corner hit off his leg and into the net to put Dundalk three goals to the good.
Robbie Benson was given his home league debut ten minutes from time as both sides began emptying their respective benches. The former UCD skipper replaced McEleney who was afforded a raucous applause as he left the field.
The game soon petered out as a contest with the game ending on a despondent note as Finn Harps left-back Ciaran Coll was stretchered off having fallen awkwardly while defending a corner.
Horgan, Finn, McEleney, Paddy Barrett and Darren Meenan all could have been considered for the man of the match award in a polished Lilywhite display.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Champions can retain their crown and if Finn Harps can avoid relegation. On the evidence of tonight both could achieve their respective goals.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Séan Gannon, Paddy Barrett, Andy Boyle ©, Dane Massey; Darren Meenan (John Mountney 69), Ronan Finn, Chris Shields, Patrick McEleney (Robbie Benson 77), Daryl Horgan; Ciáran Kilduff (David McMillan 71).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Brian Gartland, Shane Grimes, Stephen O’Donnell.
Finn Harps: Richard Brush; Ethan Boyle, Damien McNulty, Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll; David Scully, Raymond Foy, Gareth Harkin (Kevin McHugh 78), Michael Funston, Adam Hanlon (Liam Flatley 66); Ryan Curran (Matthew Crossan 78).
Subs not used: Tony McNamee, Tommy McMonagle, Ryan McConnell, Tommy Lee McCarron.
Booked: Ciaran Coll (10), Michael Funston (22),
Referee: Ray Matthews
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Ronan Finn (Dundalk FC)