DFC | Cork City have one hand on the title as Maguire hits a hat-trick at Oriel Park

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division | Dundalk FC 0–3 Cork City

Cork City’s Sean Maguire turns away from Dundalk FC’s Dane Massey. PICTURE: CIARAN CULLIGAN

The Cork City players will no doubt enjoy the mid-season break, safe in the knowledge that they have one hand on the SSE Airtricity League trophy after Sean Maguire’s hat-trick at Oriel Park propelled them an incredible 18 points clear at the top of the table.

With Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane back on Irish soil and watching on from the stands, Maguire gave an exhibition in how to lead the line, tormenting Niclas Vemmelund and Paddy Barrett with his movement and link-up play.

More importantly, he pulled the plug on Dundalk’s title defence with three classy finishes to take his tally to 16 goals in as many games.

John Caulfield’s side is now that far in front of the chasing pack that even if Maguire, as expected, departs for the UK and they suffer an improbable Devon Loch-style collapse, they would still have enough in the tank to recover and get over the line with plenty to spare.

Just eight seconds had elapsed when the 23-year-old had his former teammates concerned. Dane Massey misjudged a ball forward from the kick-off, allowing Karl Sheppard to take possession on the byline and pick out Maguire who flashed an effort into the side-netting.

Dundalk ramped it up after that and David McMillan fired wide from outside the box after a Johnny Dunleavy header fell kindly into his path.

The champions continued to try and set the tempo and a fantastic reverse pass from Patrick McEleney found McMillan in space on the left of the Cork penalty area in the 13th minute but there was nobody in a white shirt to capitalise and apply the finishing touch to his cutback.

The SSE Airtricity League table. SOURCE: SOCCERWAY

Cork responded like champions, winning the fifty-fifty tackles that shape the outcome of such games and they drew first blood in the 19th minute.

Inevitable, Maguire was involved from start to finish. Some quick feet on the edge of the Dundalk penalty area saw him flick the ball into Stephen Dooley and head for the danger zone.

Dooley fed Karl Sheppard on the right and his low centre was bang on the money, Maguire sweeping home to bank his 14th goal of the season.

Dundalk struggled to shake the cobwebs away and Ryan Delaney had a header hacked clear off the line by Jamie McGrath with Gary Rogers beaten.

Dane Massey was then fortunate that referee Paul McLaughlin only awarded a corner and not a penalty after a Kevin O’Connor delivery came off his trailing arm.

Lacking the fluidity and composure they showed in the early stages, the hosts hit a brick wall in the final third. When they did show a glimpse of a threat on the counter-attack, Conor McCormack was there to snuff out McEleney’s charge.

Cork City looked the more likely and Maguire squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to make it 2–0 when he miscued from 12 yards after Jimmy Keohane had worked the opening.

Barrett was booked for another foul on Maguire in the 43rd minute and Delaney following suit at the other end seconds later when he hauled McMillan to the deck.

Michael Duffy’s free-kick was deflected wide and Dundalk passed up a golden chance to equaliser from the subsequent corner as the unmarked Massey headed wide despite being given the freedom of the City six-yard box.

Dundalk were on high alert again just three minutes into the second period. Maguire picked the ball up in a pocket of space 25-yards from goal and let fly but Rogers went right to turn it around the post.

The groans from the home crowd grew audibly louder two minutes later when McGrath horribly screwed his shot badly wide after initially bamboozling Bennett with a nutmeg to create the chance.

A bit of finesse led to Mark McNulty being called into action for the first time in the 66th minute. McEleney’s lay-off invited Robbie Benson to shoot but the City goalkeeper back peddled to turn his curling drive over the top.

Kenny introduced O’Donnell in the 68th minute but just as it looked they were finding some thrust, Maguire landed the knockout blow two minutes later.

John Dunleavy’s quick thinking led to the goal, the full-back throwing the ball off the back of Jimmy Keohane before swinging in a cross for Maguire to glance home with Barrett and Vemmelund all at sea.

And the Leesiders rammed home their superiority in stoppage time when Maguire claimed his hat-trick with a cool finish after a bad mistake by Massey.

Game, set, match…..and surely the title.

DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Paddy Barrett, Niclas Vemmelund, Dane Massey; Chris Shields (Stephen O’Donnell 68), Robbie Benson; Michael Duffy (Ciaran Kilduff 74), Patrick McEleney, Jamie McGrath (Thomas Stewart 65); David McMillan. Subs not used: Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Conor Clifford, Gabriel Sava (GK)

CORK CITY: Mark McNulty; Jimmy Keohane, John Dunleavy, Ryan Delaney, Kevin O’Connor; Gearoid Morrissey (Greg Bolger 83), Conor McCormack; Karl Sheppard (Steven Beattie 80), Gearoid Morrissey, Stephen Dooley (Shane Griffin 73); Sean Maguire. Subs not used: Achille Campion, Connor Ellis, Garry Buckley, Alan Smith (GK).

REFEREE: Paul McLaughlin. ATTENDANCE: 3,643.

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