WHILE even a victory for Cork City against Dundalk at Turner’s Cross on Friday night is unlikely to be enough to prevent the Lilywhites from regaining the league title, the game is still far from a dead rubber.
A win for City would leave them three points behind Stephen Kenny’s side with four games remaining, but Dundalk will still have five to play and still possess a superior goal difference.
The notion of them dropping points in three of those five games is practically impossible to envisage – and that’s assuming that there is a home win on Friday.
Having only taken one point from their last three games, drawing at home with St Patrick’s Athletic before losing to Sligo Rovers at the Cross and then going down away to Bohemians on Friday, it’s hard to make a case that City deserve to retain their title. While coming second to Dundalk is by no means a reason to close the whole thing down, it’s vital that acceptance of that isn’t allowed to seep in.
Friday’s game is important for a number of reasons.
There is the basic fact that the league race is still mathematically alive and so a win is required; but as well as that, it’s a way of telling Dundalk that, while they have all but taken the trophy back this time, they will face a challenge to hold it; and there is also the possibility of a fourth straight FAI Cup final between the sides.
The Lilywhites are likely to see off UCD at home in the semi-final while City face a trickier task, either away to Bohemians (again) or Derry City, who meet Wednesday night in their delayed quarter-final tie.
Should the top two meet again in the Aviva Stadium, City will look to deny Dundalk a double, as they did in 2016, with Dundalk unable to return the favour last year.
Beating them on Friday would certainly leave a contagion of concern in the minds of the Louth side that, in a one-off game, City are cause them problems.
While the loss at Oriel Park in March was as one-sided as a 1-0 can be, City were good value for the win by the same scoreline at the Cross in April.
The return at Oriel in June, just after the summer break, was one of the what-if moments of the season.
Having gone behind, City levelled through Josh O’Hanlon and Karl Sheppard had a great chance to put City ahead but hit the post and then a Seán McLoughlin own goal in injury time proved decisive.
A win for City would have opened up a four-point lead but instead, they have only been back on top when Dundalk have had games in hand since that night.
Nevertheless, it showed the knife-edge nature of these games and the importance of taking the chances when they do arise.
While it probably won’t be as pivotal as past meetings, there is nevertheless importance attached and City have to find a performance that reflects that.