The Ghost of Gortakeegan: Revisited
Gortakeegan. One word that sends a shiver down Dundalk supporters’ spines. The reason for that is pretty clear, as the Ulster ground has seen the Lilywhites suffer unbearable agony over the last ten years.
From relegation in 2002, spending months travelling to the venue during the 2005 season, the end of a 20-match unbeaten run in ‘06, league hopes ruined the same year, a route back to the Premier Division almost denied in ‘08, and a League Cup semi-final defeat in 2010 – Gortakeegan is the ultimate bogey ground for Dundalk FC.
The 2005 season in particular was difficult. Dundalk, with Oriel Park being redeveloped, played many of their home games at Gortakeegan before eventually returning home in August. Ironically, the only games they won at the venue that year were against…Monaghan, ending the year with a 100 percent record from four encounters against United on their home patch. One of those games saw Dundalk win an FAI Cup tie 7-1!
However, while Monaghan took a short break from inflicting pain upon their Louth opponents that season, they have made up for it in no uncertain terms over the last six years. Below, we look back on five meetings that shook Dundalk. One of those, back in ‘02 – on a day that John Whyte played – ended in a 3-0 victory for the Lilywhites, but it was not enough to prevent them from a painful demotion to the First Division.
But just before we do, here’s one stat as we prepare to meet Monaghan this Friday night: In their last seven competitive visits to Gortakeegan, Dundalk have drawn three and lost four, their last win coming on Friday 7 July 2006 when goals in the final quarter from Seán Finn, Philip Hughes and Christy Doran gave them a 3-1 victory.
League Cup: Tuesday 17 August 2010: Monaghan United 1-0 Dundalk (O’Connor 87)
Cathal O’Connor’s 87th-minute drive killed Dundalk’s last remaining hope of silverware in 2010 as for the second time in the space of five days – after Shaun Williams in the Morton Stadium – an ex-player came back to haunt the club as Monaghan earned a deserved 1-0 win over their local rivals in the League Cup semi-final. For all their possession, the Lilywhites lacked a cutting edge in attack and failed to once seriously test home goalkeeper Gabriel Sava. The first blow for Ian Foster came after just 20 minutes when club captain Liam Burns was forced off following a clash with Peter Cherrie. Monaghan, in contrast to Dundalk, fed well on scraps and Alan Byrne should have headed them in front while Seán Brennan hit the crossbar with a tremendous free-kick. O’Connor then struck from 25-yards in the dying moments to continue Dundalk’s terrible recent record at the Ulster venue.
First Division: Sunday 28 September 2008: Monaghan United 2-2 Dundalk (Brennan 44, Scully 90+3; Farrell 17, 87)
Dundalk had thrown away a 2-0 lead in Athlone three weeks earlier but bounced back with home wins over Kildare County and Shelbourne, meaning they travelled to Monaghan at the top of the First Division. And on 17 minutes, ex-Mon Robbie Farrell (pictured above) gave them the lead, finishing well after ‘keeper Danny Woods could only palm away Dessie Baker’s initial effort. However, despite controlling proceedings, the Louth club lost that advantage on the stroke of half-time when Seán Brennan curled home a superlative free-kick. A poor second half was lit up late on. Dundalk looked to have stolen maximum points when they hit the front on 88 minutes. Shane Grimes was the provider as his cross from the left evaded the Monaghan defence to allow Farrell the easiest of tasks as he fired in at the back post. The hosts fought back, though, and, moments later, Chris Bennion was called upon as he pulled off a wonderful save to knock a goal-bound effort onto the post. Then, from a melee following the resulting corner, Farrell saw red for an off-the-ball incident, before David Scully struck at the death to complete a disastrous 90 seconds. Dundalk remained two points clear at the summit and eventually got across the winning line in November, though not without the help of one Colin Scanlan.
First Division: Friday 3 August 2007: Monaghan United 2-0 Dundalk (Doyle 80, 85)
League leaders Dundalk travelled to Monaghan having lost just two of their opening 22 league games. However, despite John Gill’s side dominating, a smash-and-grab raid in the final ten minutes gave Monaghan a totally undeserved 2-0 win, a result that knocked the Lilywhites off the summit for the first time since the opening week of the season. Monaghan hit the visitors with a sucker-punch late in the game as Willie Doyle twice broke through the Dundalk defence to net Mick Cooke’s men just their fifth win of the year. Doyle – who scored a 93rd-minute winner for Shamrock Rovers against Dundalk in the first league game of 2006 – firstly capitalised on a mix-up between goalkeeper Neil Gallagher and his backline to stride in and tap home to an empty net on 81 minutes, before the striker easily finished a Robbie Farrell cross five minutes later as Dundalk committed too many men forward in search of an equaliser. To cap off a night to forget for the Oriel outfit, the goal was allowed to stand despite it being clearly offside.
First Division: Friday 3 November 2006: Monaghan United 1-0 Dundalk (Smyth 6)
Dundalk came into this game on an incredible 20-match unbeaten run, a sequence which included 15 wins. They had, however, to make do without their injured top scorer Philip Hughes, who had broken the club record for most goals in one season at Galway United a fortnight earlier. That run of results left the Lilywhites within touching distance of leaders Shamrock Rovers. However, they fell behind here after just six minutes when Paul Smyth (pictured above playing for Dundalk in 2008) finished coolly after Austin McCann’s cross was only partially cleared. Dundalk created little in the opening period but dominated the second half and should have equalised before the hour mark, but Robbie McCauley saw his header brilliantly saved by Robbie Horgan. Horgan was later knocked unconscious following a clash with Paul Marney, which led to 12 minutes of injury-time. However, the Lilywhites could not force an equaliser, Horgan’s replacement Tadhg Murphy twice denying Keith Dunne. Late on, his namesake Robbie was sent off to complete a miserable night for the Louth side. Dundalk went on to win their last two league games, beating Limerick and Finn Harps, before defeating Waterford United 3-2 in the playoff final, only to be denied promotion in the infamous IAG process.
Premier Division: Sunday 31 March 2002: Monaghan United 0-3 Dundalk (Reilly 1, McGuinness 52, McCarville 78 (OG))
The situation was simple for Dundalk. They had to win and hope that Saint Patrick’s Athletic would do likewise in Longford, two results which would see Martin Murray’s side enter a playoff final against Finn Harps to maintain their Premier Division status. Dundalk entered the game without injured pair Garry Haylock and James Keddy, but Martin Reilly (pictured above) returned. And it was Reilly who fired the Lilywhites in front after just 20 seconds when John Whyte’s pass found the striker who coolly chipped John Browne. David Hoey cleared off the line to keep that lead intact before Browne denied Reilly. On the half-hour, Hoey hit the crossbar, before Dundalk eventually extended their lead on 52 minutes when David Crawley’s corner was powered in at the back post by Stephen McGuinness. Longford had just taken the lead. Dundalk completed a comfortable win 12 minutes from time when Nicky McCarville put through his own net after Browne had charged down Cormac Malone’s effort. St. Pat’s then equalised – incidentally through Philip Hughes – meaning a nervous last few minutes for the travelling support, but despite a late roar, Longford held out for a point and Dundalk were demoted. A week later, Haylock would return to fire the club to their ninth FAI Cup, but Gortakeegan remains the ground where the Lilywhites were last relegated.
Photographs thanks to www.sportsfile.com.