Dundalk ended the 2023 SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division season with a resounding 5-1 win over UCD at Belfield to secure a fifth-placed finish.
The Lilywhites started the game with an outside chance of finishing in fourth position – and possibly securing a European spot next season. To do so, they had to pick up their fifth win in six games and hope that Drogheda United could take points off Shelbourne at Weaver’s Park.
The night got off to a bad start as the Students hit the front with just six minutes played when Jesse Dempsey’s ball across the face of goal found its way to Michael Gallagher and he beat Nathan Shepperd at the back post.
Dundalk struggled to get going in the opening half an hour but they came alive after Hayden Muller rattled the UCD bar with a fantastic effort from outside the box that was tipped onto the bar by Lorcan Healy.
The equaliser arrived in the 34th minute when Paul Doyle smacked the ball home from a central area after Connor Malley’s dangerous cross was only partially cleared. The goal was greeted by even louder cheers when news filtered through that Drogheda had taken the lead against Shelbourne.
The travelling support were celebrating again minutes later when the Drogs doubled their lead but Dundalk went in level at the break despite chances for Hoban, Malley and Elliott before the half-time whistle.
Dundalk’s hopes started slipping away in the early stages of the second half as Shelbourne turned things around to go 3-2 in front in County Louth and the mood in the stands was matched by the display on the pitch as the Lilywhites again struggled to find any rhythm.
The goals finally started to flow when Daryl Horgan fired home from the right in the 64th minute and Daniel Kelly, who was introduced from the bench, raced onto a Malley pass to round Healy and make it 3-1.
A trademark Hoban header made it 4-1 with 20 minutes to play and the Dundalk captain added a second with four minutes to go when he prodded the ball home after John Martin’s effort came back off the bar to bring his tally in a white shirt to 150 goals.
It proved academic in the end, however, as former Lilywhites defender Paddy Barrett hit a fourth goal for Shels to secure Damien Duff’s men fourth place and leave Stephen O’Donnell and his players wondering what might have been.
UCD: Lorcan Healy; Eanna Clancy, Jack Keaney, Evan Osam; Adam Verdon (Brendan Barr 65), Adam Wells; Michael Gallagher (Luke O’Regan HT), Sean Brennan (Donal Higgins 78), Ciaran Behan, Jesse Dempsey (Danny Norris HT); Mikey Raggett (Danu Kinsella-Bishop 65).
DUNDALK FC: Nathan Shepperd; Archie Davies, Greg Sloggett, Andy Boyle, Hayden Muller (Sam Durrant 76); Ryan O’Kane (Daniel Kelly 54), Connor Malley, Paul Doyle (Robbie Benson 65), Daryl Horgan (Keith Ward 76); Patrick Hoban, Cameron Elliott (John Martin 76).
REFEREE: Kevin O’Sullivan.