Dundalk draw on some late joy to secure the title
Kenny’s side have proved themselves worthy champions over a long season
Dundalk 1 Hoban 89
St Patrick’s Ath 1 Clifford 51
The points record they are chasing will be one for another day but Pat Hoban broke the Premier Division’s goalscoring one in the 90th minute here to secure the point Dundalk needed to be sure of the league title.
Never, ever can a draw have felt or been celebrated more like a win.
The last time they came to Oriel Park St Patrick’s Athletic lost by five so it wasn’t as if the Dubliners didn’t know the expected routine.
The local fans arrived in large numbers this time anticipating the sort of repeat performance that would give a party feel to a night of celebration.
But Pat’s apparently hadn’t read the script.
Instead Dundalk’s former player, Conor Clifford, gave the visitors the lead six minutes into the second half and the crowd, like a throwback in time, behaved as though they didn’t know that Cork’s failure to score in Tallaght meant they would be crowned champions in any case.
Perhaps, it was a moral victory sort of thing.
Dundalk had not been kept scoreless here since the opening weeks of the campaign.
Since then Hoban has run riot up and down the country while those behind him have passed just about every team they have encountered off the pitch. Somehow it would not have been right to have ended with victory in defeat.
Hoban’s 26th league goal of the season, a low drive right down the middle after he had been slipped through into space spared them that and Oriel Park went wild.
“It matters. It matters, of course,” said a euphoric Stephen Kenny from amid the champagne soaked celebrations.
“To get the goal was fantastic. St Pat’s did a bit of a job on us after the start we had, hitting the woodwork those couple of times but we kept pushing and Pat’s been getting a lot of late goals. He’s been fantastic for us this season. And that was a great way to win it.”
Kenny may use the team’s remaining three games to give some of his fringe players game-time and with it the opportunity to audition for a place on the bench at the cup final.
But those handed the task of taking the club’s final step to the title here were the ones he had put his trust in throughout the campaign, 10 of the 12 with the most starts – Sean Hoare and Jamie McGrath were injured – plus Pat McEleney who has featured every time since returning from England.
There was drama early on when Dundalk hit the woodwork twice in the matter of a few moments courtesy of Robbie Benson then McEleney and for a while afterwards it seemed they might lay siege to Brendan Clarke’s goal until he and his team-mates simply yielded to the inevitable.
Most of what followed, though, had a rather gentler feel about it with the locals easing rather than storming their way towards the finishing post.
The hard work was done, after all, in that run of 13 straight victories, in the five they scored at Tallaght and the more recent win over Cork City at the Cross.
Still, there was a succession of chances to take the lead here. Hoban, went close, of course, and John Mountney – on from early for the injured Benson – and then Dylan Connolly grazed the top of the crossbar as half-time approached.
After Clifford scored six minutes into the second period, finishing well after Dundalk had failed to deal with a free into the area, it took them quite a while to get going again and the crowd started to turn on the referee after he denied them what would have been a soft penalty.
There was no need for scapegoats in the end, though. They left it late but the usual heroes stepped up to the mark.
Champions of Ireland . . . they know what they are.
We kept pushing and Pat’s been getting a lot of late goals. He’s been fantastic for us this season. And that was a great way to win it
Dundalk’s Dylan Connolly celebrates winning the league tilte after last night’s game against St Patrick’s Athletic at Oriel Park.