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Cork out to end Dundalk's dominance as Premier Division title rivals clash tonight

The country’s top two clubs are separated by a single point heading into tonight’s showdown at Oriel Park.

Dundalk defender Brian Gartland with Cork City striker Sean Maguire.
Dundalk defender Brian Gartland with Cork City striker Sean Maguire.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Updated at 15.00

ALL EYES WILL be on Oriel Park tonight as the two clubs vying for SSE Airtricity League Premier Division glory go head-to-head (7.05pm, live on RTÉ 2).

Dundalk and Cork City know each other better than most having slugged it out for domestic honours over the past three years.

The Lilywhites have claimed back-to-back titles ahead of perennial runners-up Cork and also pipped them to the FAI Cup at the Aviva Stadium 11 months ago.

This season, it’s been all about their European exploits. Stephen Kenny’s men cemented their names in the history books as the first Irish club to ever win or pick up a point in the Europa League group stages.

Those added fixtures have tested Dundalk’s squad depth, however, and last Saturday saw them suffer a set-back as they were well-beaten at home to Sligo Rovers.

Cork, who have remained hot on the heels of their title rivals in the hope that they would slip up, put five unanswered goals past Galway United on the same night to close the gap at the top of the table to a single point.

Now, both clubs have to play seven massive games over the next 27 days — their six remaining league fixtures and the FAI Cup final on 6 November.

And the Leesiders travel to Louth for the first of those matches this evening.

“Cork City are playing well and they come to Oriel Park in expectation but this group of players, every question that has been asked of them they have answered,” Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny told DundalkFC.com.

“They have shown immense character on a consistent basis and we will need to show that again tomorrow night.

“There has been many a question asked of them and they have had to dig deep – no more so than this season with the league FAI Cup and Europa League and the demands that it brings. Psychologically, mentally and physically to keep the domestic run going.

These are great occasions to be a part of. They are great matches for everyone. Our supporters can inspire us here at Oriel Park. They have inspired us so many times before.”

Cork have had the upper-hand in meetings this year. Sean Maguire’s penalty handed them 1-0 win back in March, before they picked up another victory by the same scoreline back at Turner’s Cross  two months later thanks to a first half strike from Stephen Dooley.

Former Dundalk striker Maguire has been on a remarkable goalscoring run this term with 26 in all competitions and 16 in the league — which puts him one ahead of David McMillan.

John Caulfield Cork manager John Caulfield. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Cork manager John Caulfield believes his team are well-prepared and in good form going into the business end of the season.

“We’ve said for most of the season that we felt we could make a title race of it,” Caulfield said at yesterday’s press conference. “Some people around the country didn’t think we could, but we felt we could.

“There are six massive matches to go and it’s game on. The spirit and the attitude of the team is very good at the moment.

“We have scored a lot of goals and we have kept a lot of clean sheets — we’ve had a record 19 so far which is incredible. In the last two months, we’ve been scoring, keeping clean sheets and winning matches.

“Dundalk have got all the plaudits with their European run and they have deserved it. But our run of form has been exceptional as well. It’s actually been better (than theirs). Hopefully we can continue it for the next two weeks.

He added: “Over the last three years, we have progressed quite well. I think our supporters can see that this is by far the best team we have had. We have already beaten Dundalk a number of times this year, we hadn’t done that in the previous two years.

So we’re going there to win the match. That is what we go out to do all the time and our whole preparation is geared towards doing that and that is what we want to do.”

The home side are missing Patrick McEleney (hip) and Robbie Benson (groin), while Cork have a few knocks and will wait until the last minute on the fitness of Steven Beattie, Kevin O’Connor and Alan Bennett.

Gearoid Morrissey (hamstring) is a major doubt and long-term absentees John Dunleavy and Alan Smith won’t play any part.

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Ben Blake

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