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Dundalk crowned SSE Airtricity League champions as Duffy screamer sees off Shamrock Rovers

The Lilywhites won a fifth title in six seasons with a win at home to their closest rivals tonight.

Michael Duffy celebrates his title-sealing goal.
Michael Duffy celebrates his title-sealing goal.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Dundalk 3

Shamrock Rovers 2

Keith Wallace reports from Oriel Park 

MICHAEL DUFFY RIFLED in a Goal of the Season contender as Dundalk put the seal on a record-breaking campaign in style by clinching their fifth SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title in six years with a 3-2 win over Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Monday night.

The champions are now unbeaten in 23 league games, a sequence including 21 wins – eclipsing their previous record which stood since the early ‘90s – and it’s a run that has seen them power 15 points clear at the top with just four games remaining.

Rovers, who had led the league race by 13 points back in mid-April, started well here, but they were rocked close to the half-hour mark after a costly mistake from Gary O’Neill. Dundalk took full advantage with Duffy’s corner hammered home by centre-half Seán Hoare.

The hosts made it 2-0 in first-half injury-time as Patrick McEleney’s cross was met by a brilliant header from Robbie Benson who found the net for the first time in over a year.

Rovers reduced the deficit ten minutes into the second half when Aaron Greene lifted the ball over Gary Rogers, whose run of home league clean-sheets dating back to May came to an end.

sean-hoare-celebrates-scoring-a-goal Sean Hoare celebrates the opening goal. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Dundalk restored their two-goal cushion four minutes later when Duffy unleashed a 25-yard rocket, a wonder-strike which appeared to make certain of the three points.

However – after Dane Massey struck the post – Rovers responded once again through Aaron McEneff’s deflected shot. McEneff went close a 91st-minute equaliser but Rogers produced a superb save and then Seán Gannon cleared off the line as Dundalk got the job done with a month to spare.

Vinny Perth had recalled Hoare, Massey and McEleney to his team in three changes from Friday’s 1-0 win over Waterford, as Andy Boyle, Dean Jarvis and match-winner from the RSC Daniel Kelly dropped out.

Stephen Bradley also brought in three fresh faces, following their scoreless draw with Saint Patrick’s Athletic at Tallaght Stadium. Ex-Lilywhite Ronan Finn, McEneff and O’Neill came in for Ethan Boyle, Greg Bolger and Dylan Watts.

Rovers, wearing pink, started brightly but in the opening 10 minutes they could only manage tame attempts from McEneff and Graham Burke.

McEleney tried to spark Dundalk into action and his left-wing cross was headed into the path of Jamie McGrath on the edge of the box but, off-balance, the ball flew off target.

The Hoops almost hit the front on the quarter-hour when Jack Byrne’s corner went all the way to Burke at the back post. He picked out Roberto Lopes in the centre but, with a free shot, he fired over the bar.

There were some handbags after that following a foul on O’Neill by Daniel Cleary, who went into the book along with Burke and home captain Patrick Hoban.

Dundalk’s 28th-minute lead came following a gift from O’Neill, who sloppily conceded possession close to his own box, with the former UCD midfielder recovering to block McEleney’s shot behind for a corner. From Duffy’s pinpoint delivery, Hoare struck a bullet header past Alan Mannus.

It was 2-0 in the only added minute at the end of the half. McEleney swung in a delightful left-footed cross which was met by a stunning header from Benson, who will have enjoyed this even more having endured such a frustrating season through injury.

Rovers found a way back into the game 10 minutes into the second half when Seán Kavanagh opened the Dundalk defence with a well-placed through-ball for Greene to run onto and he lifted the ball over Rogers.

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Dundalk made it 3-1 four minutes later when Duffy produced a moment of magic as he struck an unstoppable shot past Mannus.

Massey almost added a fourth but his strike bounced back off the upright, and then Rovers got back into the game when McEneff’s strike from the edge of the box took a deflection on the way to the net.

Dundalk nearly killed their rivals off on 85 minutes when substitutes Seán Murray and Daniel Kelly combined, but the latter’s drilled shot was touched behind by Mannus at his near post.

Rovers threw everything at Dundalk in the final moments, with McEneff’s strike met by a super save from Rogers, who was then relieved to see Gannon clear Lopes’ header off the line, as the Louth men were crowned champions for the 14th time.

DUNDALK: Gary Rogers; Seán Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Seán Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Seán Murray 68); Jamie McGrath, Patrick McEleney (Daniel Kelly 78), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (c) (Georgie Kelly 87).

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Alan Mannus; Lee Grace, Roberto Lopes, Daniel Lafferty; Ronan Finn, Aaron McEneff, Gary O’Neill (Brandon Kavanagh 79), Seán Kavanagh; Jack Byrne, Graham Burke (Dylan Watts 75), Aaron Greene.

Referee: Paul McLaughlin (Monaghan)

About the author:

Keith Wallace

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