Friday 15 December 2017

Horgan lords it over Rebels

Dundalk 2 Cork City 1

A jubilant Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny. Pic: Sportsfile
A jubilant Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny. Pic: Sportsfile
Daryl Horgan celebrates the first of his two goals for Dundalk in the Premier Division win over Cork City at Oriel Park last night. Pic: Sportsfile

Only fatigue can now stop Dundalk from winning their third successive league title, as the reigning champions have swatted away the challenge of their closest rivals Cork City with a performance that the watching Martin O'Neill could, surely, only sit back and admire.

There's still a long, long way to go in the title race with Dundalk facing a gruelling schedule of league games over the next 17 days, on top of their Europa League date with Zenit St Petersburg next week. But the manner of their 2-1 defeat of Cork last night was a big statement from the league leaders, that they were champions and here to stay.

Now four points ahead with five games to go, it's going to take some slip-up for Dundalk to miss out.

In front of a crowd of 4,136, this was one of the best games seen in the domestic league in some time, good football being played in a high-octane atmosphere as so much was at stake with a title-hungry Cork side trying to go above Dundalk in the table. Hefty challenges, penalty appeals, questionable free kicks and a flurry of yellow cards (7) were the ingredients of a tense title battle.

But Daryl Horgan's display, with a part in both goals for his side, was something else, from another level.

His second goal, on 36 minutes, should be shown to football-loving kids all over this island - scratch that, anyone who loves this game should watch and enjoy Horgan's goal, a mixture of pace, precision, thought and talent.

O'Neill, fresh from leading the national to a six-point haul in the World Cup qualifiers, was in Oriel Park and if Horgan is not in the senior squad for next month's qualifier away to Austria, it will be a crying shame for O'Neill and his employers.

Horgan shone though this was a team effort from Dundalk, but boss Kenny also earned his corn last night, making one very big call in his team selection.

Long-serving keeper Gary Rogers in the senior Ireland squad in Belgrade only a month ago but he has struggled of late, and with Kenny guessing that his keeper's confidence was hurt by the weekend 3-0 home loss to Sligo Rovers, he opted to make a change, putting Romanian keeper Gabriel Sava in for his first league game of the season while Alan Keane slotted in at right back for the injured Sean Gannon, also his first league outing since his recent move here.

A keeper was indeed in focus in the sixth minute but it was City man Mark McNulty and not Sava involved.

Horgan struck a free kick from just outside the box, though Cork will dispute the awarding of the free when Patrick McEleney went down under a challenge from Alan Bennett, and Horgan's effort went over the line, off the back of the diving McNulty and into the net, officially an own goal but one that Horgan will claim.

There was no doubt about his second, though, a move and shot of pure brilliance, as he left his markers in his wake and beat McNulty with a stunning strike.

Sean Maguire had scored nine goals in his previous seven games for City but the U21 cap didn't get a sniff here, let down by a lack of service as Dundalk won the midfield battle, with ex-Cork player Stephen O'Donnell bossing things in his own tussle with Greg Bolger.

When the Cork goal came it was from sub Mark O'Sullivan, who connected with a cross from Steven Beattie and he beat Sava with a toe-poke, his first real touch after coming off the bench and his first league goal since April.

The goal enlivened City, O'Sullivan close again with a header but Dundalk retained their grip on the game, Bolger lucky to stay on the field following a lunge at sub Chris Shields.

Mountney shot wide for the home side with 12 minutes to go while in added time Horgan had a free saved by McNulty, the job now done.

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