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Saturday 3 December 2016

Lilies wilt as Saint Conan enjoys his 99

A rare Dublin loss for champs

Conan Byrne of St Patrick's Athletic celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between St Patrick's Athletic and Dundalk at Richmond Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Conan Byrne of St Patrick's Athletic celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between St Patrick's Athletic and Dundalk at Richmond Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

At long last, Dundalk FC have been undone by a team of Dubliners, at a time when it least mattered.

Even though St Patrick's Athletic managed to get the better of the newly-crowned league champions who came here in party mode, the pre-match guard of honour by Pat's for Stephen Kenny's title-winning side, and the gap between the teams in terms of points, underlines just how far the Saints, and the rest of the clubs from the capital, have to go to match the men from Oriel Park.

Since Bohemians shocked Dundalk with a win in Oriel way back in June 2015, Dublin teams have tried and failed to beat the three-times champions in the league, a run which ended last night when Pat's romped home, the Saints 4-0 up with 50 minutes still to play though Dundalk's second-half display was more impressive than that off-colour first 45 minutes.

HOPING

A big scoreline for the Saints and a big night for Conan Byrne, who took his career tally of league goals to 99 with a two-goal delivery last night, the 31-year-old hoping for one more in the season finale at home to Derry City on Friday to take him into three figures.

Bright-eyed youngsters in the Saints side like Steven Kinsella - due to return to Everton after this loan spell - and goal hero Jonathan Lunney hint at a bright future for Pat's, but beating Dundalk's reserves in a dead-rubber of a game is not enough of a boast, and the Saints - like Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers - have a long way to go before they are competitive again.

A glance at the unused players in the stand for Dundalk was more indicative of their approach here than the team on the pitch, with nine changes from the side which won the league at home to Bohemians just two days earlier.

Stalwarts like Daryl Horgan, Ronan Finn, Patrick McEleney, Andy Boyle, Dave McMillan and Ciarán Kilduff didn't even strip for the game while others such as Brian Gartland and John Mountney drew the short straw and took a seat on the bench, both men came on for the second half.

Celebrations from Sunday's title win stretched into Monday as bookmakers would learn, the bookies who had listed Pat's at 4/1 outsiders for a win on Monday morning cutting those odds to 11/10 in the hours before kick-off at Richmond Park.

But once the Saints players stood in line to form a cordon for the Dundalk players, in front of a crowd of 817, this was always going to be a surreal night.

A chance for Pat's to regain some pride after a forgettable season, their form in the two recent home games against the title-chasers (a 3-1 win over Cork City and last night's defeat of Dundalk) hinting at what Pat's are capable of when they put their minds to it but also a case of a side only playing to their potential when the pressure is off.

TOUGH

With five players in the Dundalk side making either their league debuts or their first starts in the league, it was always going to be tough, and the away side's chances were harmed when captain for the night, Shane Grimes, had to leave the field due to injury on 17 minutes, another debutant in Carlton Ubaezuono on for him, but it would be a tough night for teenager Ubaezuono who was replaced at the half-time break.

Pats's then stunned Dundalk with four goals in the space of 20 minutes, giving boss Kenny the rare position of being 4-0 down during his half-time team talk.

Conan Byrne set up Chris Fagan to open the scoring on 19 minutes, Fagan returned the favour - after good work by youngster Jonathan Lunney - as Byrne added a second on 26 minutes.

Byrne popped up again with a shot to beat Gary Rogers on 36 minutes while left back Ian Bermingham popped up with his first goal since August six minutes from the break.

Kenny demanded better, brought Gartland on for the second half and his side got back into the game with a scrappy goal from Dean Shiels on 47 minutes, young striker Michael O'Connor then netting his first league goal from close range after a cross from Seán Gannon in the 62nd minute to make the scoreline a tad more respectable.

But Pat's had another goal in them, a stunning 85th minute strike from Lunney, saving the best until last.

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