Dundalk got the defence of their SSE Airtricity League title underway with a 2-1 win over Shamrock Rovers in what was a truly pulsating encounter at a packed Oriel Park.
Goals in each half from Robbie Benson and Ciaran Kilduff were enough to see The Lilywhites begin their quest for a fourth consecutive league championship with a hard-fought win in what was a heated contest between two of this season’s title favourites.
The hosts created a half chance as early as the first minute when John Mountney was denied by Tomer Chencinski, but it was the visitors who had the first real effort when Paddy Barrett’s lapse in concentration allowed Darren Meenan to race through on goal, but the former Lilywhite somehow curled his effort wide of Gabriel Sava’s post with the goal gaping.
Dundalk again almost shot themselves in the foot when Sava’s poor attempt at a kick out was deflected into an empty net by another one of their former players, Michael O’Connor. However, the goal was disallowed by referee Neil Doyle, who deemed O’Connor to have handled the ball, a decision which appeared to be harsh. The champions were next to go close as Mountney’s free-kick from the right was met by Dane Massey who headed wide of the near post.
Massey was again denied, this time by Chencinski who saved brilliantly from the Dundalk defender following a header by Brian Gartland from Mountney’s cross. Dundalk took the lead just past the half hour mark when the excellent Michael Duffy danced his way around Simon Madden before putting the ball on a plate for Benson, who duly obliged to score his first league goal for the club at Oriel Park.
Brandon Miele went close for Shamrock Rovers just before the break when he curled his free-kick just past the post though the diving Sava seemed to have it covered.
The Lilywhites doubled their advantage not long after the interval when the outstanding Patrick McEleney weaved his magic after dispossessing Daniel Devine before his pinpoint cross was headed home by Kilduff. Ronan Finn then made his much-anticipated introduction with an hour played, cue a mixture of applause and jeers by his former supporters. His presence must have made a difference as Rovers pulled a goal back with 15 minutes to go through another substitute Graham Burke who looped his deflected effort past Sava to score on his debut for the club.
Burke’s dream debut turned into a nightmare just three minutes later however, when he was shown a straight red card for a vicious lunge on Jamie McGrath. Rovers almost nicked a point in stoppage time when David McAllister hit the woodwork from a Miele free-kick as Dundalk held on to secure a vital three points even at this early stage.
Dundalk: Gabriel Sava; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Paddy Barrett, Dane Massey; John Mountney, Robbie Benson, Stephen O’Donnell (Conor Clifford 67), Michael Duffy (Jamie McGrath 71); Patrick McEleney (Niclas Vemmelund 85), Ciaran Kilduff.
Subs not used: Ben Kelly, Carlton Ubaezuonu, Steven Kinsella, Thomas Stewart.
Booked: Sean Gannon (26), Michael Duffy (67), Ciaran Kilduff (80).
Shamrock Rovers: Tomer Chencinski, Simon Madden, David Webster, Daniel Devine, Trevor Clarke; Darren Meenan, David McAllister, Roberto Lopes (Graham Burke 69), Ryan Connolly (Ronan Finn 59), Brandon Miele; Michael O’Connor (Sean Boyd 61).
Subs not used: Kevin Horgan, Sean Heaney, Paul Corry, James Doona.
Booked: Trevor Clarke (18), Darren Meenan (30), Ronan Finn (65), Sean Boyd (81).
Sent Off: Graham Burke (79).