Shamrock Rovers took full advantage of Robbie Benson’s controversial dismissal to pick up their first win of the season at Oriel Park on Friday night.
Trailing to Rory Gaffney’s header, Dundalk were left with it all to do when referee Arnold Hunter took centre stage, producing a red card after the Lilywhites midfielder went into a tackle with Lee Grace approaching the halfway line.
And the reigning champions made full use of the numerical advantage, hitting three more goals against the 10 men to get their season up and running at the seventh attempt.
With Patrick Hoban and Cameron Elliott missing with hamstring and calf injuries respectively, John Martin led the line for Dundalk while Alfie Lewis and Benson, a regular goalscorer against Rovers throughout the years, were also named in the starting XI.
Rovers made the breakthrough in the 22nd minute when former Dundalk centre-back Daniel Cleary picked Gaffney out with a fine right-footed cross and the striker made no mistake with his header.
A great pass by Connor Malley set Martin up for a strike at goal in the 27th minute but he curled his effort over Alan Mannus’ bar and Dundalk’s chances of getting back into it were dealt a hammer blow four minutes later.
Hunter left the majority of the 3,761 in attendance stunned when he went straight to his pocket to pull out a red card for Benson after the midfielder went into a fifty-fifty with Grace right in front of the Rovers technical area.
The visitors capitalised and a scruffy goal by Grace from a corner doubled their advantage before Gaffney went within a whisker of making it three before the interval but he rolled his shot wide of the advancing Shepperd.
HT: Dundalk FC 0-2 Shamrock Rovers
Stephen O’Donnell’s 10 men produced a spirited display in the early stages of the season half but they couldn’t find the breakthrough they needed to get back into the game.
Johnny Kenny put it beyond any doubt when he met Richie Towell’s delivery to guide a header back across the goal to leave Shepperd with no chance with 71 minutes played.
Substitute Graham Burke made it 4-0 before substitute Keith Ward was denied a consolation by Mannus as Dundalk slipped to their first home league defeat of the season.
FT: Dundalk FC 0-4 Shamrock Rovers
DUNDALK FC: Nathan Shepperd; Archie Davies, Wasiri Williams, Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy (Robbie McCourt 79); Greg Sloggett, Connor Malley (Keith Ward 75), Alfie Lewis (Johannes Yli-Kokko 68); Robbie Benson, John Martin (Daniel Kelly 75), Rayhaan Tulloch (Ryan O’Kane 68). Subs not used: Hayden Muller, Anthony Moyo, Peter Cherrie (GK), Mark Byrne (GK).
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Alan Mannus; Daniel Cleary, Sean Hoare, Lee Grace; Neil Farrugia (Darragh Nugent 74), Gary O’Neill, Richie Towell, Sean Kavanagh (Dylan Watts 77), Jack Byrne (Markus Poom 59); Johnny Kenny (Aaron Greene 74), Rory Gaffney (Graham Burke 74). Subs not used: Leon Pohls (GK), Sean Gannon, Roberto Lopes, Ronan Finn.
REFEREE: Arnold Hunter.