Limerick 1-1 Dundalk

Paul O’Conor’s 89th-minute goal put an end to reigning champions Dundalk’s perfect winning start to the SSE Airtricity Premier Division campaign as Limerick banked a deserved share of the spoils against the champions at Jackman Park.

Stephen Kenny’s men rarely hit the heights but were still just minutes away from claiming their sixth straight win thanks to a stunning Richie Towell effort but O’Conor’s near post header gave Martin Russell’s side a point that hauls the Shannonsiders off the bottom of the table. 

The hosts made one change to the side that was narrowly beaten by St Patrick’s Athletic in their previous outing with Jason Hughes coming in for Darragh Rainsford on the right flank.

The game marked Dundalk’s first visit to Jackman Park since their promotion winning season of 2008 and the sizeable travelling contingent would have been delighted to see the name of Stephen O’Donnell on the substitutes' bench, the Dundalk skipper returning from a cartilage injury picked up in pre-season.

Russell’s team belied their lowly status for much of the first half, giving the champions as good as they got up until Towell’s wonderful strike which divided the sides at the break.

The Blues focused on making inroads down the Dundalk right with Sean Gannon kept busy by the lively Ian Turner. It was a corner from the former Cork City winger that picked out Paudie O’Connor in the 17th minute, but the big centre-back’s glancing header went well off target.

Alarm bells were ringing in the Dundalk back four just two minutes prior that O’Connor effort. Andy Boyle’s mistake looked like it would allow Dean Clarke an opportunity to get clear into the penalty area but the Lilywhites’ skipper recovered well to get a block on Clarke’s effort.

Dundalk soon warmed to the task and Ronan Finn saw a half-volley go wide after Sean Harding’s poor pass out from the back.

Wingers Darren Meenan and Daryl Horgan looked a threat for Dundalk and combined well in the 29th minute. Horgan clipped in a centre from the left but David McMillan’s claims for a penalty, after going down under pressure from Harding in the six-yard box, proved to be fruitless.

Towell’s goal settled the champions down nine minutes later. Meenan’s free from the right was headed clear by Robbie Williams but Towell returned the ball with interest, leaving O’Donnell helpless with a great strike from 20-yards that crashed back of the stanchion and saw the visiting support in the temporary stand behind the goal erupt.

Kenny’s team finished the half strongly with Towell and Chris Shields both seeing efforts saved by O’Donnell but the hosts went in at the break very much still in the game. 

The first-half shut out took Dundalk’s run without conceding a league goal to 674 minutes - some 11 and a quarter hours of football - but half-time saw Brian Gartland, an integral part of the back four during that run - replaced by Paddy Barrett.

Barrett and his fellow defenders looked extremely comfortable for the opening 15 minute of the second half but he found himself in trouble just past the hour mark.

Clarke, who proved to be a nuisance to the Lilywhites back four, forced his way past Barrett on the inside left channel and hammered a shot at goal but Gary Rogers made a fine save to keep his unblemished record intact.

Limerick then wasted a great opportunity to test Rogers and his backbone in the 76th minute, Turner squandering a free-kick from a dangerous position after Towell’s mistimed tackle right on the edge of the penalty area.

Dundalk continued to hold a threat on flanks and Meenan slalomed  his way across the Limerick backline in the 77th minute to get a drive away but O’Donnell pushed it behind before Finn’s attempted chip over the Limerick goalkeeper seven minutes later, from a smart Gannon pass, just didn’t have the elevation required.

The home side fashioned one more chance in the dying stages and they got the draw that their efforts deserved. Dundalk looked to have done enough when they cleared a Turner corner but a long throw from the left ended with O’Conor turning Paudie O’Connor’s flick past Rogers to stun the champions.

Limerick: Conor O’Donnell; Sean Harding, Aidan Price, Paudie O’Connor, Robbie Williams; Jason Hughes (Vinny Faherty 68), Paul O’Conor, Shane Duggan, Sean Russell (Darragh Rainsford 89), Ian Turner; Dean Clarke.

Subs not used: Tommy Holland (GK), Tony Whitehead, Val Feeney, Sean McSweeney, Conor Maguire.

Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland (Paddy Barrett HT), Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Richie Towell; Darren Meenan, Ronan Finn, Daryl Horgan (John Mountney 75); David McMillan (Kurtis Byrne 78).

Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (GK), Stephen O’Donnell, Shane Grimes, Ciaran O’Connor.

Referee: Dave McKeon.