Darren Meenan of Dundalk and Cork's Billy Dennehey when the teams met earlier in the season. Donall Farmer/INPHO
Big games

Dundalk v Cork City: 7 matches that defined the title race

It all boils down to tonight’s game at Oriel Park but here’s how we got here.

Updated at 10.56am

1. Dundalk 4 St Patrick’s Athletic 1 – April 

STEPHEN KENNY’S SIDE had started the season with a four-goal defeat in the Louth Derby at United Park, casting doubt over whether they’d be serious title contenders this time around.

Four week later, those fears were well and truly dispelled as Dundalk dismantled the Champions at Richmond Park. Televised live on RTE 2, the League of Ireland nation watched as the newest arrival to the league’s top table justified their seat at the table.

Despite going in at the break behind after Chris Forrester struck, the Louth side struck back with four second half goals. John Mountney, Daryl Horgan and David McMillan all scored – an example of Dundalk’s threat all over the pitch – before right back Sean Gannon finished off a superb 36 pass sequence in injury time.

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2. Cork City 3 Shamrock Rovers 0 – April 

On the very same night, Cork City were impressing against opposition from the capital down by the Lee. Shamrock Rovers were the visitors to Turner’s Cross and with both sides tied at the top of the early league table, it looked set to be a tight affair. If anything, Rovers were expected to bring Cork’s surprising early season start to an end. It didn’t transpire that way.

John Caulfield’s charges blew the Hoops away. Brothers Billy and Darren Dennehy were on the scoresheet as was Mark O’Sullivan, the striker signed from Avondale United and who had never played League of Ireland football before this season, who scored his second goal of the campaign. The Rebel Army had arrived in the title race and were to be considered serious contenders.

3. Shamrock Rovers 0 Dundalk 1 – 13 July

With Dundalk facing European trips to Luxembourg and Split in July, it looked like Cork might be able to capatilise as fatigue and jetlag effected their title rivals. While the Leesiders were able to sneak ahead with points gained on the Friday night, it had no adverse effect on Stephen Kenny and his troops who managed their European/domestic balance brilliantly.

In four consecutive weeks where Dundalk played a Europa League tie in midweek, they picked up maximum league points to emerge at the end of July leading the pack. This trip to Tallaght was always likely to prove the trickiest of those league fixtures but thanks to Pat Hoban’s solitary second half goal, the Lilywhites took the points back to the Carrick Road.

Shamrock Rovers TV / YouTube

4. Cork City 1 Dundalk 2 – 1 August 

Back in April, Dundalk had thrashed Cork 4-0 at Oriel Park. If you hadn’t seen the league standings already, you’d never have thought this was a meeting of two sides at the top of the table. For the detractors, it proved to be a false dawn as John Caulfield’s team recovered and by August were second only to Dundalk and with touching distance.

Going into this game at Turners Cross, Cork sat three points behind. Darren Dennehy cancelled out Richie Towell’s early striker with an 84th minute header but just seconds later Brian Gartland scored – his eight of the season in all competitions – to break Rebel hearts and extend their lead at the top to six points.

RebelArmyTV / YouTube

5. Cork City 1 Shamrock Rovers 0 – 5 September 

Colin Healy’s stunning overhead kick may last longer in the memories of Cork City supporters, but this late victory – again with Shamrock Rovers falling to defeat at Turner’s Cross could prove to be just as vital should Cork lift the SSE Airtricity League trophy on Friday night.

Any late goal in the midst of an ever-so-close title race is welcomed with delight bordering on delirium but Dan Murray’s late winner against his former side ensured John Caulfield and his team made the most of Dundalk’s defeat at Richmond Park on the same night.

The majority of Cork’s big victories over the course of the campaign have come at home. This was simply another in front of a crowd that puts all other League of Ireland clubs to shame.

6. Bray Wanderers 1 Dundalk 1 – 17 October

That Cork victory at the start of September edged them closer to the league leaders and soon after, it was level pegging at the top of the division. A week ago, Dundalk were knocked off the top of the league for the first time since May 2. On the penultimate night of the season, it’s hardly good timing but it could have been worse – by a week or so.

Conditions at the Carlisle Grounds were atrocious – not to excuse the Lilywhites, because both teams had to endure them – as Bray dug in to earn a 1-1 draw confirming their top flight status.

Former Dundalk midfielder David Cassidy scored after just 28 seconds and while the optimistic travelling supporters will have hoped that allowed more than enough time to come from behind, it wasn’t to be. Pat Hoban’s goal equalised in the second half but with the result in Cork going against them, the advantage had been lost.

7. Cork City 1 Bohemians 0 – 17 October 

The result in question was City’s 1-0 win over Bohemians at Turner’s Cross. While Owen Heary’s side have languished in mid-table all season, they did manage to take a draw away from the Cross earlier in the year before beating them at Dalymount Park.

Add in their FAI Cup victory (albeit with a replay) too and you would be forgiven for thinking Bohs would put a final spanner in Cork’s title works.

That wasn’t to be though. The league’s best defence kept another clean sheet – their 17th in 32 matches – and Billy Dennehy scored his 17th goal of the campaign just prior to half-time secured the three points and top spot for Cork. A draw is all they need at Oriel Park.

Who’d have thought it?

RebelArmyTV / YouTube

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