Cork City made a real statement of intent for the 2016 League Of Ireland season with a 2-0 victory over champions Dundalk in the President's Cup.
City took the lead in the 20th minute through Gavan Holohan and doubled the advantage in the second half through ex-Dundalk man, Sean Maguire’s header.
Since these two last faced each other in the FAI Cup final last November in the Aviva Stadium, City had a lot to ponder. Since returning to pre season training in January, they have been working hard to get in shape for what they hope will be the year they finally finish top of the table for the first time since 2005 in Ireland’s top flight.
Dundalk saw Richie Towell depart for English Championship side Brighton, but they have added Patrick McEleney, one of the league’s most talented players, to the strong core of a side which they have kept together. In this particular game, they still looked just as organized and well drilled as they did last season on a number of occasions.
On an overall level, there was some entertaining stuff played at times, with both sides showing samples of good play . There was also a real competitiveness in the clash throughout. They will be fully aware of the high expectations on them from their respective sets of fans.
In the opening stages, the Leesiders took the game to their opponents. Eoghan O’Connell headed just over from a corner, before an effort from Alan Bennett went just wide following a decent cross by Greg Bolger on the right. The former St Patrick’s Athletic man impressed, with his work rate and good skill and vision on the ball.
In the 15th minute, Ciarán Kilduff, who spent a spell on loan with City in the past, went close for Dundalk with a chipped effort in the penalty area, but he was denied by a great save from Mark McNulty, showing glimpses of why he is regarded as one of the top shot stoppers in the league.
Cork took the lead with 20 minutes on the clock, as Holohan was on hand to finish, after Sean Maguire passed across the box. It may have been little reward for Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers, who just second earlier made a great save to deny Stephen Dooley.
Dundalk had more of the ball as the first half reached its conclusion, with McEleney going close after good link up play with O’Donnell.
Things threatened to boil over just before the half time break, as a melee involving several players broke out, after Andy Boyle went in late with a challenge on Alan Bennett, while committing for the ball.
In the second half, City went close when Morrissey saw a shot saved by Rodgers. Then just on the hour mark, Kenny Browne’s header was cleared off the line by Ronan Finn.
John Caulfield’s charges would double their lead with 61 minutes on the clock, when O’Connell’s brilliant piece of invention picked out Maguire, who with pin point accuracy found the bottom corner with a diving header.
Dundalk went close, when Daryl Horgan did well to cross, but Kilduff was unable to get on the end of it. They could not open up a City defence which looked well organized overall. As the game progressed, their threat started to diminish. This was especially given Brian Gartland was given his marching orders in the 80th minute for a second yellow card.
As the encounter reached its conclusion , Ian Turner showed City fans some of his great abilities from set pieces, like he did last term with Limerick, when he saw his well taken free kick saved. So City win the first piece of silverware on offer this season, but they will be hoping a certain one will be coming their way come the end of October.
Both will now turn their attentions to the new League Of Ireland season, which gets underway next weekend. City will kick off at home to Bohemians, while Dundalk will start their campaign for three league titles in a row with a trip to face Bray.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; John Dunleavy, Alan Bennett, Kenny Browne, Eoghan O’Connell; Greg Bolger, Stephen Dooley(Karl Sheppard 76), Gearóid Morrissey, Ian Turner, Gavan Holohan (Steven Beattie 71); Sean Maguire(Mark O’Sullivan 86).
Subs not used: Colin Healy, Danny Morrissey, Michael McSweeney , Alan Smith(gk).
Booked: Mark McNulty (45+1), Gearóid Morrissey (53), Greg Bolger (60).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon (John Mountney 62), Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Stephen O’Donnell, Daryl Horgan, Ronan Finn, Patrick McEleney (Paddy Barrett 81); Ciarán Kilduff (David McMillan 84).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Shane Grimes, Robbie Benson, Darren Meenan.
Booked: Chris Shields(12), Andy Boyle (45+1), Brian Gartland (56).
Sent Off: Brian Gartland (80).
Referee: Graham Kelly.
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Eoghan O’Connell (Cork City).