Dundalk 3 Derry City 1
If Daryl Horgan was disappointed by his failure to make the latest of Martin O'Neill's outsized preliminary international squads, there was no sign of it here with the 24 year-old yet again catching the eye and playing a crucial role as the league leaders came from behind on home turf.
This time they won, beating a Derry City side that did enough to show why they are contenders for Europa League football on a couple of different fronts while still proving no match for a side holding its own so far at the business end of this season’s group stages.
City’s extended spell of possession football towards the end of the first half was something few teams would dare to aspire to, much less manage to pull off, but in the end Dundalk’s quality told all over the pitch and on the day that was in it, Horgan stood out, with the midfielder setting up his side’s first and third with characteristic moments of magic.
The case for his inclusion in an Ireland squad had inevitably been hampered by the quality of the opposition he routinely plays against but his proponents might argue that you can only beat what you’re up against and here that was largely City’s right back Conor McDermott - who he beat rather wonderfully at the game’s decisive moments.
Tougher tests lie ahead, much tougher but if the 24 year-old could start to make anything like this level of impact in Europe then his case for some sort of recognition might indeed start to seem unanswerable. For the moment, Martin O’Neill’s decision to omit him, for all the kind words, on the basis of his club’s congested fixture list provides some idea of just how far off really serious consideration by the Ireland manager remains.
To be fair, few players or teams in this league would have coped with him any better than Derry did here and there was much to be admired about the way they set about their own game even if Shamrock Rovers’ less ambitious approach had yielded the prize of a point the other night.
There was a touch of good fortune about the early Lucas Schubert goal that put them in front with poor defending certainly a contributory factor but Dundalk then reacted like champions, ramping things up and equalising within seven minutes.
Horgan got very much the better of McDermott before firing in a low angled cross that David McMillan swung at bit missed only for John Mountney to flick it up then power it low through a crowded area and into the goal.
Soon after that, they were in front with Brian Gartland getting his second goal in four days, a header from eight yards after Massey's initial attempt, from a Mountney corner, had come back off the crossbar.
Such was the sense of the momentum behind Dundalk at that stage that they seemed likely to push on and win quite easily but City had other ideas and, to their credit, dominated much of the rest of the opening half without actually posing much of a threat really in the final third.
They faded in the second half, though, and Horgan came into his own. He had quite a few moments over the 45 minutes that followed but his darting change of direction and low through ball to set up what was McMillan’s 20th goal of the season in all competition’s understandably prompted a particular outpouring of joy in the stand.
Kenny’s men could, and probably should, have had more but they got their win and if City do the same in Sligo then the match between the two here, rescheduled on Friday for Tuesday, October 11th will, as this intriguing title race rumbles towards ins conclusion, look that little more enticing.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; O'Donnell (Benson, 80 mins), Finn; Mountney (Shields, 75 mins), McEleney, Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff, 72 mins).
Derry City: Doherty; McDermott, Vemmelund, Karner (Doherty 65 mins), Jarvis; McEeneff, McCormack; Schubert, McNamee, Curtis (Boyle, 76 mins); Patterson.
Referee: P McLaughlin (Donegal).