For a half, at least, Finn Harps looked to make light of the 16/1 odds – but three goals in an eleven-minute spell by Dundalk early in the second half broke their resistance.
Dundalk 4 Finn Harps 0
Harps weathered the storm in a lively opening half but Robbie Benson, David McMillan and Patrick McEleney netted killer blows for Stephen Kenny’s men in front of a crowd of 2,037 before substitute Jamie McGrath hammered in a fourth.
Dundalk opened the scoring in fortunate circumstances in the 51st minute when, after Ciaran Gallagher superbly saved from Dane Massey’s driving effort, the ball cannoned off Benson and in.
Dundalk doubled the lead when the in-form McMillan capitalised on Kilian Cantwell’s hesitancy before rounding Gallagher to fire home.
In between times, though, Harps – who haven’t scored against Dundalk since making their top flight return – were denied a penalty when Sean Houston (pictured) went to ground under the challenge of Sean Gannon.
Replays showed that Gannon had fouled Houston and the irritation from Ollie Horgan and Paul Hegarty on the Harps bench was evident – and it wasn’t without foundation.
Their side quickly fell two down and, just after the hour, McEleney, whom the stadium announcer referred to as ‘the master of the sublime’, beat Gallagher for a cheeky third for the home side.
Dundalk – who hammered Drogheda 6-0 seven nights ago – were rampant again in that spell and Michael Duffy twice riffled narrowly over as they went for blood, while Jamie McGrath steered home another nine minutes from time.
Harps kept the sheet clean in the opening period, though a mixture of both Gallagher’s saves and Dundalk profligacy – and it was evident here that their endeavours were proving frustrating as the groans got louder around the old place.
Right on the stroke of half-time, the Lilywhites seemed certain to score when Thomas Stewart jinked away from Kilian Cantwell, only to fire wide with the Oriel Park crowd in disbelief.
Harps weren’t without their bright points and, though it was a half in which Dundalk were dominant, the visitors might well have taken a shock lead in the 35th minute.
Gareth Harkin’s pass gave Houston the opportunity and the Letterkenny man’s clean-struck attempt grazed the fingertips of Gary Rogers on its way out.
The returned Caolan McAleer saw a cross cause panic in the Dundalk area, but there was no-one to apply the finish when it fell invitingly.
Before that, Harps ‘keeper Gallagher saved his side’s bacon twice in quick succession, first thwarting McMillan, who scampered onto the end of a clever through ball by McEleney.
Former Derry City man McEleney was denied by Gallagher on the half-hour as he flew down to his right to turn away a teaser.
McEleney was at the hub of Dundalk’s attack but, after doing well to get a shot away just before half-time, he failed to really test Gallagher’s reflexes.
McEleney was the architect for an acrobatic effort by Thomas Stewart as the clocked ticked into added time at the end of the opening period, but Gallagher was alert to the danger while McMillan managed to steer wide just when it appeared as if the deadlock, eventually, was to be broken.
Earlier, McMillan and McEleney were involved before Duffy tested Gallagher while McMillan flicked wide with a headed chance with McEleney riffling over and McMillan narrowly missing a connection at the far post as the champions turned the screw.
Damien McNulty, Ethan Boyle, McAleer and Danny Morrissey all returned to the Harps side, having been suspended for last week’s 1-0 loss to Shamrock Rovers.
Packie Mailey and Barry Molloy missed out because of injury while Eddie Dsane dripped to the bench and Ciaran O’Connor was unable to play, due to the terms of his loan move from Dundalk.
Molloy did come on for the last 26 minutes
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Niclas Vemmelund, Dane Massey; Michael Duffy, Stephen O’Donnell (Chris Shields 70), Robbie Benson, Thomas Stewart (Jamie McGrath 62); Patrick McEleney (Ciaran Kilduff 73); David McMillan.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Kilian Cantwell, Ciaran Coll, Gareth Harkin; Caolan McAleer, Paddy McCourt (Barry Molloy 64), Ethan Boyle, Jonny Bonner (Eddie Dsane 59), Sean Houston (Pascal Millien 73); Danny Morrissey.
Referee: Ben Connolly (Dublin).Tags: