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Forever contenders, Cork City can finally seal the title against adversaries Dundalk tonight

Current holders Dundalk stand between Cork City and a first Premier Division title in 12 years tonight at Turners Cross.

John Caulfield and Stephen Kenny Stephen Kenny and John Caulfield. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Cork City can claim the Premier Division title tonight as they welcome Dundalk to Turners Cross, with the game live on RTÉ 2 (Kick-off 7.20pm) 

THE MEETING OF Cork City and Dundalk has been the elite fixture in League of Ireland football over the last four seasons.

The Rebel Army have had to play second-fiddle to the Lilywhites three years running for the title — in 2014, 2015 and 2016 John Caulfield has finished runners-up to Stephen Kenny.

But the painful and arduous wait for a first league title in 12 years on Leeside could come to a close against their foes later tonight at Turners Cross.

Despite Cork’s awful run of form over the last month, which has seen them not only exit the EA Sports Cup at the final four, but also lose three of their last four Premier Division fixtures too, they can still claim the league with one more win tonight.

Numerous matchdays in recent weeks have presented Cork the opportunity to mathematically secure the title, however defeats to Sligo, Shamrock Rovers and Limerick last Friday have postponed the party and forced supporters to put champagne on ice.

During this time the current title holders have gone from strength to strength. Dundalk lifted the League Cup last Saturday with a 3-0 win against Shamrock Rovers and also face into a Leinster Senior Cup final as well as an FAI Cup semi-final — a domestic cup treble within reach.

They have also won 9 of their last eleven Premier Division fixtures, meaning they have cut the gap between themselves and Cork slimmer and slimmer with each passing matchday.

The contrast in form will climax tonight at Turners Cross: win and Cork will be champions, lose and their lead on Dundalk will be cut to just eight points with four games remaining.

Greg Bolger and Kieran Sadlier dejected after the game Greg Bolger and Kieran Sadlier walk off the pitch following Cork's 2-1 defeat to Limerick on Friday. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Manager Caulfield said his side would have to play the “game of their lives” during Monday’s clash of titans.

We’re at home, it will be a massive crowd, it’s Dundalk who have been a great side and are a great side,” he said.

“I suppose from our point of view we have to play our game. We need everyone to show they’re ready for the game.”

Cork fell to Limerick at the Markets Field 2-1 on Friday — their third defeat in four, with the City manager frustrated at his side’s inability to see out games in recent weeks.

Maybe there’s a bit of complacency. There shouldn’t be but sometimes it creeps into guys’ minds. But certainly you can’t allow the goals we have been giving away.

“They’re comical goals, you wouldn’t see them at under-12 level game. That has been uncharacteristic. We need to get ourselves right, have a chat and get ourselves right for Monday.

“(Cork City) is a brilliant place to play and a brilliant club to play with. The support is phenomenal, both home and away. We need to eliminate the mistakes we made and go and play like we can play and like we have in previous games against Dundalk.”

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Stephen Kenny Stephen Kenny's side have won 9 of their last eleven Premier Division games. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Dundalk’s start to the season ultimately cost them the title, with early defeats to Derry City, Cork themselves, Bray and Galway allowing their rivals to forge an in-assailable gap between first and second which has lasted the course of the campaign.

Murmurs of a possible upset have surfaced as Cork continue to slip up over the last month, with some bracing themselves for what would be one of the greatest upsets in the history of Irish club football — Dundalk snatching the title at the last.

It seems implausible and despite Dundalk continuing to rise and cut the gap at the top the thought that Cork could fail to see out the title appears more like the jibes of begrudgers rather than being grounded in any sense of real possibility.

“There’s still a gap, it’s in Cork City’s hands but we have to keep doing what we are doing at the moment,” said Dundalk forward David McMillan, who scored his 21st goal of the season in their 3-0 win over Drogheda on Friday which cut the gap to 11 points.

We are focusing on ourselves and taking it one game at a time. Our next game is against Cork City and we are going out to win the game.

“We can only affect our own results. We want to go and win. Our form against Cork hasn’t been overly good in the last while so we want to go out and rectify that.

We feel that if we play like we have been over the last few weeks then we will have a good chance of winning the game. It’s going to be a tough game, we know that, and it’s always a good battle between the two sides so I’m sure it’ll be another one.”

Cork defeated Dundalk on both previous occasions this season, with June’s 3-0 destruction at Oriel Park a seismic moment in the campaign as former Lilywhites striker Sean Maguire scored a sensational hat-trick.

Sean Maguire celebrates scoring their second goal Sean Maguire scored a hat-trick at Oriel Park the last time the sides met. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Despite his absence following a transfer to Preston North End two months ago the side will be expected to wrap up the title over the next number of weeks, seeming in recent weeks to struggle over the line rather than march across it triumphantly.

Even if victory against Dundalk is not the same certainty it was earlier in the season, beating the foes who have kept them at arms length to a first title in over a decade would be the sweetest way to claim the long-awaited Premier Division title which City have earned in 2017.

Either that, or the beginning of the greatest upset in League of Ireland history will take place in front of the television cameras at Turners Cross later tonight.

As always when Cork meet Dundalk, it promises to be a classic which showcases the best Irish football has to offer. A passing of the baton — from champions, to champions.

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Aaron Gallagher

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