Dundalk know that three points against Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Monday night (kick-off 7.20pm) would secure their fifth SSE Airtricity League title in six years, despite there being four games still to play.
Anything less would theoretically keep the champagne on ice. However, a draw for Dundalk would see them remain 12 points clear of Shamrock Rovers, who would then need to win all four of their remaining fixtures as well as hope for four Dundalk losses on top of a highly unlikely 16-goal swing.
Last Friday night, the Lilywhites extended their unbeaten run in domestic competitions to 28 matches – now a club record run – as Daniel Kelly scored the game’s only goal against Waterford at the RSC.
“Waterford are a good side. We knew it was going to be difficult going to the RSC, but we played well when we needed to. It is a great win for us. We wanted a few more goals but at this stage of the season, it’s just about winning games,” said Kelly, who has scored seven in the league this term.
“We have done well against Waterford this year and they were good on Friday. They put it up to us in the [FAI Cup] quarter-final a couple of weeks ago, so that was in our minds going into it. I don’t think we were at our best, but it was one of those nights that we got the job done.”
Attention now turns to a top-of-table and potentially celebratory clash with Shamrock Rovers, who were 13 points ahead of Dundalk before Vinny Perth’s side embarked on their current unbeaten run.
“It will be a very tough game tomorrow night. Rovers are a very good side and have been right up there for the whole season. They have pushed us and will be looking to beat us at Oriel,” continued Kelly.
“We have had close games against them all year and we have had the better of it, but they were narrow wins. They are in great form; I know they drew on Friday, but they have been winning mostly.
“Dundalk-Rovers are always big games, big occasions and tomorrow will be no different, but we are confident and hopefully we can get the win to seal the league.”
In terms of team news, Kelly will be assessed before kick-off as will Dane Massey, Sean Murray and Aaron McCarey, but John Mountney and Jordan Flores are the only definite absentees for Dundalk.
Nine league matches unbeaten, Shamrock Rovers will be desperate to prevent Dundalk from clinching the title under their watch considering they were 13 points ahead of the Lilywhites in April.
Rovers had albeit played two games more than Dundalk back then, but five defeats (two of them crucially against Dundalk) and four draws has seen that 13-point advantage turn into a 12-point deficit.
Their most recent fixture on Monday night saw them held to a scoreless draw at home to St Patrick’s Athletic with goalkeepers Alan Mannus and Brendan Clarke of St Pats both on top form on the night.
For their trip to Oriel, Stephen Bradley will have to make do without Joey O’Brien and Neil Farrugia, but both players are on the comeback trail. Other than that, Rovers have a full squad to choose from.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
It’s now well over a full year since Dundalk lost a league match at Oriel Park and the last team to beat them on home soil was in fact Shamrock Rovers, who recorded a 2-1 win there in August 2018.
Should the Lilywhites avoid defeat against the Hoops, it would extend their unbeaten record in the league to 23 matches. That would mark another new club record, as their longest unbeaten run beforehand was 22 matches spread across two seasons, spanning from January until October 1991.
Speaking of records, a clean sheet for Dundalk (their ninth in a row) would see them beat a club best of consecutive clean sheets in the league, which has also stood since 1991. Coincidentally, the team that put an end to that sequence was none other than Shamrock Rovers, who did so in April of that year.
Dundalk 4/6; Draw 14/5; Shamrock Rovers 15/4
Dundalk 1-0 Shamrock Rovers
Injured: John Mountney, Jordan Flores.
Doubtful: Daniel Kelly, Sean Murray, Aaron McCarey.
Injured: Joey O’Brien, Neil Farrugia.