Dundalk’s quest to win three SSE Airtricity League titles on the trot is well and truly up aftr Friday night's routine victory over newly promoted Finn Harps at Oriel Park.
Dundalk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Finn Harps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
This was the first Premier Division meeting between the sides since 1999 when a Fergal Harkin goal condemned Dundalk to relegation to the First Division. How times have changed.
Dundalk were on top from early on with Stephen Kenny’s flying wingers - Daryl Horgan and Darren Meenan - heavily involved right from the off.
Horgan’s floated ball over the top found Ciaran Kilduff in acres of space behind the Harps back four in the opening minutes, but the striker collected with his back to goal allowing blue shirts to funnel into position and clear.
The Galwegian then tried to unlock the door himself on the quarter hour mark, taking control of Patrick McEleney’s pass to dart inside and flash a drive at goal which Richard Brush, making his debut in goal for Harps, did well to tip over the bar.
The champions can be just as effective from set-pieces as they are from open play and so it proved again from the subsequent corner. Meenan whipped it in from the left and Paddy Barrett popped up to head home the first goal of the new campaign at Oriel Park.
Ollie Horgan’s side arrived at the border venue with three players missing from the side that started the season with a thrilling derby victory over Derry City.
Amongst those on the missing list were new recruits Barry Molloy and Sean Houston along with goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher; a new job preventing him from playing in the game.
Another new signing, Ethan Boyle, made his first start in defence while Liam Flatley came on for his debut in the second half.
With so many absentees, Harps struggled to get into any sort of rhythm and found themselves on the back foot for large spells of the game.
Ronan Finn should have hit the target from Kilduff’s clipped ball into the box in the 28th minute. Chris Shields then fired a well hit volley into Brush’s midriff before Meenan was involved again in the final act of the half, his floating free-kick from the left glanced onto the post by McEleney before the ball was cleared to safety.
Ryan Curran almost silenced the home support seven minutes into the second half. Dundalk failed to clear a ball in from the left and the former Derry City man was unlucky to see his half volley go wide of Rogers’ right hand post with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Things may have been different if that had gone in but Dundalk opened up and Finn almost brought the house down with a 35-yard screamer that whistled just over the top.
The Ballybofey side struggled to live with the increase in tempo and the second inevitably arrived in the 59th minute. Dane Massey’s cut back from the left was precise and the finish from McEleney was even better, the Derry native superbly finding the corner of Brush’s net.
The game was put to bed with 15 minutes to go when Horgan’s corner from the left landed amongst a crowd of bodies and ended up in the net.
Andy Boyle half heartedly claimed the goal but it looked like the final touch came off a blue shirt.
Harps’ night went from bad to worse when Ciaran Coll departed on a stretcher with a serious looking knee injury just before the final whistle.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Paddy Barrett, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey, Chris Shields, Ronan Finn, Darren Meenan (John Mountney 69), Patrick McEleney (Robbie Benson 70), Daryl Horgan, Ciaran Kilduff (David McMillan 72).
Finn Harps: Richard Brush, Ethan Boyle, Damien McNulty, Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll, Adam Hanlon (Liam Flatley 67), Michael Funston, Raymond Foy, Gareth Harkin (Kevin McHugh 78), Dave Scully, Ryan Curran (Matthew Crossan 78).
Referee: Ray Matthews.