Michael Duffy struck late for Dundalk at the Markets Field to extend their lead at the summit of the Airtricity League Premier Division.

The visitors huffed and puffed for 80 minutes but couldn’t find the breakthrough until the man in Martin O’Neill’s sights finally found the net.

Dundalk made three changes from their defeat to Shamrock Rovers last Tuesday. Dane Massey, Sean Hoare and Patrick McEleney made way for Dean Jarvis, Dan Cleary and Dylan Connolly to come into the side.

Limerick’s transfer embargo imposed by the FAI due to late payment of wages has restricted their flexibility and they opted to field a makeshift back four in the form of Darren Murphy, Killian Brouder, Colman Kennedy and Shane Tracy. Whatever way you look at it, it’s probably not ideal preparation with the side who have hit them for 15 goals already this season coming to town.

The table-toppers hadn’t followed up a home league defeat with an away league loss since September 2012. That was in the middle of an 18-game winless run in which they shipped 41 goals. Dundalk have conceded just 39 goals in their last 62 league games, as a contrast.  

But, against all the odds, they did seem the more likely to concede in the opening 45 as the league leaders simply couldn’t break Limerick down.

Bar a Pat Hoban header that had Limerick stopper Tommy Holland peddling across his goal to keep it out, the Blues were comfortable because of their commitment off the ball.

Dundalk’s Dylan Connolly and Shane Tracy of Limerick

The hosts themselves created a couple of chances on the break, as both Will Fitzgerald and Cian Coleman tested Gary Rogers, with the latter coming the closest to opening the scoring to that point.

Limerick were likely buoyant going in at half-time, while Dundalk’s lead atop the league table had been reduced as Cork led Sligo.

Stephen Kenny acted quickly and introduced Ronan Murray. Dundalk had scored in sixteen consecutive league games, and an injection of composure was needed.

The home side hadn’t netted in any of their last six league games against Stephen Kenny’s men while they had shipped 22 times in that same spell. But Connor Ellis had the best chance of the next 20 minutes of play. His rocket from an awkward angle looked to be flying into the roof of the net, only for Rogers to touch over the bar.

With ten minutes remaining on the clock, it seemed Dundalk's impressive scoring run would come to an abrupt end.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Amid interest from Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, Duffy showed a prime example of just why he’s being considered at international level.

The move started as most did on the night, with Dundalk getting the ball into a central area and Limerick winning the initial contest – but on this occasion, Duffy was on hand to strike low from the second ball – before wheeling away in celebration with the visiting fans behind the goal.

Dundalk’s Dean Jarvis and Cian Coleman of Limerick

News immediately filtered through of Raffaele Cretaro’s late strike in Cork, as the away support was sent into raptures on a night that could be decisive in terms of the title race.

Limerick: Tommy Holland; Darren Murphy, Killian Brouder, Colman Kennedy, Shane Tracy; Cian Coleman, Shane Duggan; Karl O’Sullivan, Barry Maguire, Will Fitzgerald (Billy Dennehy, 79); Connor Ellis (Danny Morrissey, 75).

Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Brian Gartland, Dean Jarvis; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Patrick McEleney, 77); Dylan Connolly (Ronan Murray, 46), Jamie McGrath (John Mountney, 67), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban.

Referee: Rob Rogers (Dublin)