Potential Title Deciders
St. Pat’s beat Dundalk 2-0 at Richmond Park on Friday night to move three points clear of the Lilywhites. Here I’ve picked out five of the biggest games in recent history with similar scenarios, looking at the build up to the top of the table clash and how the rest of the season panned out for both clubs.
23 March 1995: Dundalk 2-0 Derry City at Oriel Park.
The table: Derry City 47 points, Dundalk 43 points, 6 games left.
TV: Not in those days.
The story: Dundalk and Derry went through drastic changes of fortune throughout the campaign and both came with late runs after a fairly mediocre start. Derry, transformed by the arrival of Felix Healy as manager at the turn of the year, were looking to extend their lead at the top.
The game: This season’s exciting league championship took another unexpected twist as Dundalk convincingly beat the defensive minded northerners with a fine second half display. Peter Withnell and Mick Doohan got the goals.
What happened next? Dundalk were actually in third place behind Shelbourne on goal difference now, so a little cheating on my part, but they picked up 13 out of a possible 15 points as ex-player Dermot Kealy brought the County Louth team their ninth – and most recent – League of Ireland title. Best remembered for a final day penalty miss by Derry’s Stuart Gauld.
16 April 1999: St. Patrick’s Athletic 1-0 Cork City at Richmond Park.
The table: St. Pat’s 64 points, Cork City 64 points, 3 games left.
TV: Network 2.
The story: A youthful Peter Collins introduced coverage of the biggest League of Ireland game in years, the meeting of joint leaders St. Pat’s and Cork City. Dave Barry’s men had made the perfect start, winning every one of their first eight games to storm to the top of the table. Their winning run was eventually ended by St. Pat’s, who beat them 2-0 at Richmond Park (sound familiar?).
The game: It was rarely the occasion that the pre-match hype suggested but the Dubliners made home advantage count, with midfielder and double Player of the Year Paul ‘Ozo’ Osam scoring the goal in the 74th minute that moved them three points clear. His 16-year-old son Evan Osam now plays for the Shamrock Rovers under 19’s.
What happened next? Led skilfully by Liam Buckley, who had replaced Pat Dolan the previous summer, the Saints did what they had to do in their remaining two matches with 1-0 wins over Bray Wanderers and Shamrock Rovers. This is the last time Pat’s won the Premier Division…for now at least.
14 November 2003: Bohemians 0-1 Shelbourne at Dalymount Park.
The table: Bohemians 60 points, Shelbourne 59 points, 5 games left.
TV: Network 2.
The story: They were involved in a relegation battle on Friday night but ten years ago the two remaining contenders were looking for that knockout punch for the 2003 crown. The results so far had decisively gone Bohemians’ way, the leaders winning two and drawing one.
The game: An early goal from Stuart Byrne proved enough to give the Reds three points. A good run down the wing by Jason Byrne looked to have been wasted as he swiped wildly at the ball and fluffed it across the goal. To add to the comedy of errors, Colin Hawkins fell over in the area, almost handling the ball but inadvertently knocking it into the path of ‘Stuey’ who made no mistake as he slotted the ball home from inside the area.
What happened next? Shels returned to the front of the championship race and never looked back. Stephen Kenny’s side collapsed as they only picked up one point in their next three games.
24 October 2006: Derry City 2-0 Shelbourne at the Brandywell.
The table: Shelbourne 55 points, Derry City 49 points, 5 games left for Shels and 6 for Derry.
TV: Not televised.
The story: It was Stephen Kenny versus Pat Fenlon yet again in the seventh and final meeting between the sides in all competitions. A home win would leave Derry 3 points behind Shelbourne with a game in hand and make sure the title race would go down to the wire.
The game: Shelbourne were comfortably beaten on the night thanks to second half goals from Ciaran Martyn and Pat McCourt. ‘The Derry Pele’ was brought on as a half-time substitute and scored a wonderful goal while current Ireland No.1 David Forde kept the visitors at bay.
What happened next? Shelbourne had a tougher run-in but Derry would have to overhaul their rivals’ six goal better difference and sure enough that’s what it all came down to. Shels lifted the trophy by the narrowest of margins and Stuart Byrne had some strong words for Kenny in his post-match interview!
2 Oct 2009: Shamrock Rovers 1-0 Bohemians at Tallaght Stadium.
The table: Bohemians 61 points, Shamrock Rovers 60 points, 7 games left.
The story: It was the eagerly-awaited meeting of champions Bohemians and born again Shamrock Rovers. The first meeting in Tallaght the previous May, there after known as ‘The Bohs Game’ by Hoops supporters, was something special but the atmosphere on this night was incredible.
The game: All the drama was in the last ten minutes as Padraig Amond scored the only goal and then Bohs were awarded a penalty. The bulk of the 6000 supporters bit their lips, hid behind their hands and then exploded in joy as Jason Byrne powered the ball what seemed like a mile over the crossbar.
What happened next? Rovers leapfrogged their fierce rivals at the top of the table as they looked to win their first title in 15 years but the Hoops just ran out of steam. A home defeat to Cork ended their 22 game unbeaten run and ultimately allowed Bohs to go on and retain the league.