Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
When it comes to Cork City’s storied rivalry with Dundalk, there is nothing new under the sun. Friday’s latest chapter was almost a shot-for-shot rerun of the sides’ last Turner’s Cross engagement. The Lilywhites grabbed an unmerited point on that September occasion, thanks to a late Robbie Benson leveler. Alas for Stephen Kenny, that was precisely where this tedious remake deviated from the original.
Let’s just say Hollywood won’t be optioning the rights to this one. As in September, both sides successfully cancelled each other out from the off, bringing forth a stultifyingly dull spectacle. In that regard, last week’s victory over Bohemians served as a handy practice run for Cork.
With the languid Kieran Sadlier benched once more, John Caulfield’s front-four again set about disrupting the opposition’s build-up play. Jimmy Keohane re-joined Graham Cummins in pressing high at goal-kicks, forcing Gary Rogers to kick it long.
Dundalk, too, pressed high. But Cork’s defence shrugged this threat off easily — by kicking the ball away at every opportunity. With speculative balls booted at him from all directions, the best a stranded Cummins could muster was a couple of dangerous free-kicks, eked from an over-eager Daniel Cleary. The crafty Cork channel-balls of last week, made possible by a more passive Bohs side, were invisible here.
Cleary wasn’t the only defender getting super-tight to his direct opponent. Colm Horgan, on the missing list for weeks after his own personal President’s Cup disaster, was out for redemption. Fresh from a man of the match showing against Bohs, throughout which the 23-year-old followed Keith Ward infield for fun, Horgan repeated the trick here on the division’s standout performer, Michael Duffy.
Horgan did foul Duffy on two early occasions; one of which saw Cleary head the winger’s free-kick off a post. But, for the most part, the ex-Galway United defender rendered his man a complete nonentity. More deja vu for Kenny, who watched the ex-Celtic attacker flounder here in September, too. Colm’s brother Daryl, the player Duffy replaced, would surely be proud.
Duffy was far from alone, mind you, as only Mountney’s hard-running looked likely to open the Cork door by brute force. The Leesiders’ customarily quick reassembly into an ultra-compact low-block almost totally prevented Dundalk’s passage-in-behind; just as it had last September.
Kenny’s side had to wait until the 50th minute to reach the byline, when Mountney’s low cross was poked wide by Jamie McGrath. And there was no rerun either, even after the phased introductions of Ronan Murray and Dylan Connolly.
Benson and Buckley
Cork’s midfield man-marking tendencies did offer up possibilities for Robbie Benson, however. With Conor McCormack often tempted to follow McGrath leftward, Gearoid Morrissey wasn’t always switched on to the former UCD man’s unrivaled third-man running.
Benson headed a rare Duffy cross straight at Mark McNulty just after half-time. And the midfielder probably should have repeated his September equaliser on 71, after Sean McLoughlin failed to clear a long Sean Hoare throw-in.
By that point, Cork’s own goalscoring midfielder had already done the damage. Cork have won all three league games since Garry Buckley got himself sent off against Waterford. But the 24-year-old certainly made a strong case for reintegration here, emerging off the bench to forcibly swing the pendulum in the champions’ favour.
Buckley’s physicality has been key to Cork’s recent hoodoo over Dundalk; particularly in September, when his marvelously energetic performance shamed his opposite number, the unhurried Patrick McEleney. As such, his fresh legs were perfect for this one — the archetypal Cork/Dundalk stalemate.
Buckley forced the turnover that led to the game’s decisive throw-in, from which the Cork native rattled the bar, and Morrissey finished the job. Shields, untroubled by runners to that point, never saw Buckley coming.
Not a phrase anyone who zoned out in front of this one is likely to use. Meetings between Cork and Dundalk will always be attritional affairs, as long as Messrs. Caulfield and Kenny hold the respective reins. And that goes double for Turner’s Cross clashes where the onus is more on Caulfield to set the tone.
Tone set successfully here, February’s error-strewn Oriel Park reverse is now firmly behind the Cork manager. This was very much a case of back to normal for Caulfield, who again imposed his will on Kenny, preventing Dundalk from playing their natural game.
His success in this regard is absolutely remarkable; ten wins in 13 against the Lilywhites, in all competitions, says it all. As does zero home goals conceded, six wins in seven, and six clean sheets in seven. The champions have one foot on the podium’s top step again. Their bridesmaid days are well and truly over.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112