Limerick FC 1-3 Dundalk
THREE goals in a six-minute spell in the final quarter-hour propelled Dundalk to within one game of retaining the SSE Airtricity Premier Divison title, while bringing an end to Limerick FC’s extraordinary seven-match unbeaten run on Saturday night at Markets Field.
After the home side took the lead inside 80 seconds through Dean Clarke, they held firm until the last 15 minutes, when a quick-fire Richie Towell double and a clincher from Ciaran Kilduff turned the game on its head.
A raucous crowd of 2,178 showed up at the Garryowen venue to see if Limerick could get the win that would lift them off the bottom of the table and they couldn’t have started any better. The game wasn’t even two minutes old when Shane Tracy’s corner was flicked on by Vinny Faherty and, after being blocked on the line, Clarke hammered it home to open the scoring.
Dundalk should have equalised as early as the fifth minute when Limerick coughed up possession cheaply in a dangerous area, creating the opportunity for Darren Meenan to go through one-on-one with home goalkeeper Freddy Hall, but the midfielder couldn’t beat the Bermuda international.
From thereon, the first half was played predominantly in Limerick’s half as the home side manned the barricades with the champions and runaway league leaders swarming towards the Super Blues’ goal in search of an equaliser. However, from a rare Limerick attack, Shane Tracy’s curled effort forced a fine save from Gary Rogers in the 15th minute. At the other end, Hall denied Towell from inside the penalty area.
On 21 minutes, Faherty burst into a scoring position and looked primed to shoot when he went down under a challenge from Rogers. Referee Neil Doyle was unimpressed, refusing to point to the penalty spot despite Faherty’s protestations.
Midway through the first half, Towell surged forward and drew a save from Hall. Daryl Horgan chased down the rebound but Shaun Kelly produced an expert clearance to take the ball off the Dundalk midfielder’s toes in the nick of time.
Hall has quickly become a terrace hero at Markets Field in his two months at Limerick and he was a one-man barrier between Dundalk and a potential rout, producing splendid stops from Ronan Finn and David McMillan just after the half-hour mark. In the 36th minute, Towell’s knockdown fell nicely for McMillan, who on the turn fired wide. The striker then missed the target with a diving header towards the end of the first half, with Limerick reaching the interval still in front.
Martin Russell’s side had to withstand considerable pressure in the opening 45 minutes but they were a tad unlucky not to strike as early in the second half as they had in the first. Barely were the teams back out than Rogers made a fantastic one-handed save to deny the lively Ian Turner, who latched on to a failed clearance from Kelly’s cross.
Dundalk had peppered the Limerick goal throughout the first half but, after the interval, they weren’t nearly as creative and were restricted to half-chances such as Chris Shield’s weak 30-yard effort and the same player’s hopeful half-volley a few minutes later.
The champions had a strong enough substitutes’ bench, though, to wheel on Stephen O’Donnell and Kilduff midway through the second half, with the striker’s introduction giving them an added dimension up top with which Limerick struggled to cope.
The Super Blues reached the 75-minute mark with their slender lead intact, but then came the Dundalk turbo charge. A Kilduff knockdown was met 10 yards from goal by Towell, who was in ample space, and he made no mistake for his 20th league strike of the season.
Limerick had another penalty appeal in the 79th minute when Clarke seemed to be pushed in the box, but again Doyle was having none of it and, from the resulting counterattack, Towell spun to shoot towards goal. His effort took a deflection off Shane Duggan and left Hall stranded, with the champions turning the game 180 degrees in the blink of an eye.
Dundalk capped a devastating six-minute spell when, immediately after Towell’s second, Horgan slipped through Kilduff to slot home neatly past Hall and secure the points for Stephen Kenny’s men.
After a half-hearted penalty appeal from Faherty in the closing minutes, Towell forced one last save from Hall in stoppage time. In the end, Dundalk showed why they are champions and why they will inevitably win back-to-back titles. Their patience, their relentless pursuit of victory, their ability to spring players of the quality of Kilduff from the bench – all of these are reasons why Kenny’s side are not just the best of 2015, but one of the best seen in Ireland for many a year.
That quality was not lost on the Limerick supporters, who sportingly applauded the visitors off the field at full-time with the accompanying chant of “That’s why you’re champions”.
The Super Blues now have four games in October to try and make sure that they will get to meet Dundalk again in the Premier Division in 2016, their cause not helped by victory for Sligo Rovers later that night. Limerick’s next match, a visit to 11th-placed Galway United, who are three points ahead with a game in hand, has all the hallmarks of a must-win.
Limerick FC: Hall; Kelly, Kanyuka, Williams, Tracy; Duggan, O’Conor (Agyemang 87); Turner, Lynch (Russell 70), Clarke; Faherty.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon, Barrett, Boyle, Massey; Towell, Shields (O’Donnell 63); Meenan (Mountney 75), Finn, Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 67).
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin)