Neale Fenn made his much anticipated return to Oriel Park for Shamrock Rovers, but it was the man who took his number 10 shirt, Matthew Tipton who stole the limelight with a hat-trick.
Dundalk, whose title hopes vanished a long time ago, put a dent in Shamrock Rovers' quest for the crown with a 5-1 thrashing.
And to credit Ian Foster's side, it could have been more as Michael
O'Neill's side surrendered from the opening whistle.
Within three minutes, Dundalk had the ball in the back of the net.
Ross Gaynor whipped in a free kick from the right hand side into the path of Tom Miller, whose downwards header at the back post evaded the grasp of Alan Mannus in the Rovers goal. Mannus got a hand to it, but it slipped through his reach and nestled into the back of the net.
Rovers were rocked by the sensational early start by Dundalk and
suddenly, O'Neill's back line looked as vulnerable at the back as that belonging to a team bottom of the table.
Daniel Kearns – fresh from winning his first cap for the Republic of
Ireland Under-21 side in Turkey – crafted a beautiful chance on 12
minutes, sliding the ball into the box. Tipton was ready to stab the ball home but Danny Murphy got ahead of him to put it wide for a corner.
Rovers failed to shore up their wobbly defence and Dundalk made it 2-0 after 16 minutes. Dean Bennett – who had an outstanding game in the middle of the park, fired in a low cross from the right hand side.
Fahrudin Kuduzovic got a foot to it to kill it dead and with his
second touch, he slid the ball off the inside of Mannus' post and into the net. Rovers were shell-shocked and before they had time to recover, Dundalk
made it 3-0.
Bennett once again dispossessed a Rovers player, Kavanagh in the middle of the park. He put it into the waiting feet of Kuduzovic, who in turn found Hatswell at the back post. He knocked it down into the path of Tipton who got the slightest touch to knock it past Mannus. On the stroke of half-time, Dundalk were in dreamland as they snatched a fourth. A searching ball by Gaynor wrongfooted Price at the heart of the Rovers defence.
Tipton judged the flight of the ball perfectly and took his time,
smashing it into the roof of the net for his second and Dundalk's
Early in the second half, Dundalk nearly killed the game altogether as Kuduzovic's glancing header went just wide of the post.
Rovers got their first real chance of the game on 56 minutes, a sign of their dismal performance on the night. Ex-Dundalk midfielder Chris Turner got through one-on-one with Cherrie, but the Lilywhites 'keeper was quick to smother the ball.
The Tallaght side did pull a goal back and it was an opportunistic
finish to say the least. Aidan Price's long ball up the field bounced
in front of the advancing Cherrie, who was rushing from his penalty box.
Realising he was outside his box, the Scottish keeper' shied away from the ball, sidestepping it completely. It fizzled past him and Gary Twigg was on hand to finish into an open net on the hour mark. On the 85th minute, Tipton put Neale Fenn well and truly in the shade, lifting the ball over Mannus for his hat-trick and Dundalk's fifth.
Dundalk: Cherrie; Madden, G Breen, Burns, Hatswell; Kearns (Kelly, 81mins), Bennett, Miller, Gaynor; Tipton (Lennon, 87mins), Kuduzovic.
Subs not used: Kelly, McDonnell, Lennon
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Flynn (Chambers 45mins), Sives, Price, Murphy; Kavanagh, Rice, Bradley (Turner, 45mins), Dennehy, Twigg, Fenn (Stewart 60)
Subs not used: O'Connor, Byrne
Referee: Tom Connolly (Dublin)