Michael Duffy 38' -
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division champions Dundalk will play for the first time in two weeks when they host last season’s runners-up Cork City at Oriel Park on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm).
The Lilywhites’ last outing saw them claim a 2-0 win over Derry City at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium after Sean Murray and Patrick Hoban both notched their third goals of the 2019 campaign.
Dundalk had been due to welcome Bohemians to Oriel last week but that fixture was rescheduled and will be instead played on April 15th after Bohs had two players called up for international duty.
“We have been busy even without the game. We have had good training and have worked hard. That is the only way that we know,” Dundalk captain Brian Gartland told the club’s official website.
“A weekend without a game is strange. I can’t remember a lot of games through the years where we haven’t had one but we got a lot of good work done on the training ground. We are looking forward to the busy period ahead.”
With 12 points from their first six matches, Dundalk are on the same tally as they were this time last year when they went on to win the league by ten points but Gartland insists the best is yet to come.
“We aren’t hitting our stride yet. We had a great performance on the first day of the season when we drew. We have played better in that game than in other games that we have won.
“We aren’t thinking that we have hit our stride. We are happy with our form. We are on the way to where we want to be and we want to continue our form from before.”
Dundalk have defeated Cork in all four of their previous meetings while the two sides have been almost exclusively battling it out for all the major honours in Irish football over the past five seasons.
“It’s a massive game against Cork City. The two of us are going head to head again, like so many times over the past few years. They have been cracking games and there is real rivalry there.
“It’s early days in the season. People forget that. Every game is vital. The league will settle down but this is a huge game. Cork are a title rival and that says it all. We want to go out and get the win and hopefully we will.”
Michael Duffy and Sean Murray are both doubtful for the visit of Cork while Robbie Benson, Patrick McEleney, John Mountney and Chris Shields all remain on the treatment table for Vinny Perth’s side.
The extent of Cork’s apparent demise has been greatly exaggerated with the Leesiders having won three of their last four league outings ahead of their visit to Dundalk, whom they are just two points behind.
Unlike the Lilywhites though, Cork had the benefit of playing a competitive match last weekend as they faced Midleton, beating the non-league side 3-1 to lift the Munster Senior Cup at Turner’s Cross.
Written off by many following defeats in both of their opening two fixtures, Cork are now starting to show the same resilience which has seen them go toe-to-toe with Dundalk over the past five years.
“The one thing about Dundalk is that they’ve been consistent. They’ve more or less kept the same team,” said manager John Caulfield when addressing the media at a press conference on Tuesday.
“If you look at their back five – Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey, they’ve had the same back five now for the last two or three years which certainly helps.
“Up top, they have Duffy, Hoban, Mountney. You look at that and you’re saying they have a lot of boys who have been with them for three or four years. That stability helps because they know each other’s game.
“We know how difficult it is going up there. There’s no doubt that we’ve changed things around but at the same time, over the last four or five weeks our form has improved. We’ve kicked on from the start of the season.
“We know that nothing but a top performance from us will give us any chance of a result. We’re working very hard, the lads are doing well and when you get a number of wins over four weeks, that helps the confidence.”
Not for the first time in his reign as Cork manager, Caulfield then criticised the use of artificial pitches in the League of Ireland, claiming that they are of an advantage for the teams that use them.
“I don't want to just bring Dundalk or Derry into it but in professional football, no one wants to play on plastic pitches because it is a different game, there’s no doubt about that.
“Dundalk have used it to their advantage but they've had exceptional players. But if you're asking me in the early years was it an advantage, of course it was because there was no other team in Ireland that had it.”
Cork will be without Daire O’Connor and James Tilley, who miss out through injury and suspension respectively while Alan Bennett, Gearoid Morrissey and Karl Sheppard will all be assessed before kick-off.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Stretching back to last season, Dundalk are in fact unbeaten in their last 13 league outings having not tasted defeat since Shamrock Rovers came to Oriel Park and recorded a 2-1 win in August 2018.
Incredibly, that defeat to Rovers is the only match lost by the Lilywhites from their last 27 fixtures.
Having scored 66 goals in 102 appearances, Patrick Hoban is now just a hat-trick away from equalling Dundalk’s club record for League of Ireland goals which has been held by Joey Donnelly since 1939.
Donnelly scored his 69th and final league goal for Dundalk against Cork United in 1943. A hat-trick for Hoban against Cork City in 2019 would see him move level with Dundalk’s all-time leading scorer.
Dundalk 8/11; Draw 13/5; Cork City 4/1
Dundalk 2-1 Cork City
Injured: Robbie Benson, Patrick McEleney, John Mountney, Chris Shields.
Doubtful: Michael Duffy, Sean Murray.
Injured: Daire O’Connor.
Doubtful: Alan Bennett, Gearoid Morrissey, Karl Sheppard.
Suspended: James Tilley.