Dundalk were crowned SSE Airtricity League champions in dramatic fashion thanks to Patrick Hoban's record breaking last-minute equaliser against St Patrick's Athletic at Oriel Park.
With the game in the final minute, Stephen Kenny’s side found themselves trailing 1-0 to Conor Clifford’s strike but with Cork City being held scoreless in Tallaght, the Lilywhites were still on course to win the crown.
Hoban, though, made sure, latching on to Patrick McEleney’s pass to fire home his 60th goal for the club and become the first player to ever surpass the quarter century mark in a single Premier Division campaign.
The striker went into the game tied with Richie Towell, Glen Crowe and Jason Byrne on 25 goals and he should have broke new ground after only three minutes, putting the ball wide after Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney saw efforts come back off the woodwork in quick succession.
Benson’s night came to a premature end in the 12th minute, the midfielder limping off with an injury he appeared to pick up taking the shot. He was replaced by John Mountney, one of five players in the Dundalk squad looking to win their fourth league title with the club.
Kenny’s side continued to pose questions with Michael Duffy curling one just wide before Hoban headed off target but things died down after that with a number of stoppages disrupting the flow of the game.
Pat’s, who shipped 11 goals on their previous two visits to Oriel, also proved difficult to break down with Lee Desmond and Jamie Lennon providing good protection in front of their back four.
Things turned a bit flat with the expectant crowd left a bit subdued but the half finished with chances at both ends. Dylan Connolly was very unlucky to see a smashing volley clear the crossbar at the end of a move which was started by a sublime cross-field pass by Chris Shields.
Shields then showed his defensive qualities in stoppage time, getting back to halt Jake Keegan after a sloppy pass inside by Daniel Cleary. Clifford picked up the pieces but Cleary recovered, stopping the midfielder in his tracks just before he could fire at goal and the half ended scoreless.
Pat’s threw a spanner in the works by taking the lead seven minutes after the restart. Unhappy with Rob Harvey’s decision to award a free-kick to Conan Byrne, Dundalk switched off from the delivery and Toner, Jake Keegan and Michael Leahy all had a touch before Clifford peeled away from Connolly to apply the finish against his old club.
That goal silenced the natives and the mood darkened when Harvey waved away appeals for a penalty after Hoban went down under a clutch of blue shirts in the six-yard box. Nothing doing, according to the official.
Kenny reacted by introducing Ronan Murray with 24 minutes to play but Pat’s, who were often accused of having a soft centre under Liam Buckley, showed little signs of being opened up. Indeed, they almost went 2-0 up but Ryan Brennan’s effort flashed wide from eight yards.
Murray and Chris Shields both went close for Dundalk in the dying stages and it looked like the celebrations would be slightly muted at the end before Hoban popped up to really get the party started.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Daniel Cleary (Georgie Kelly 88), Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (John Mountney 12); Dylan Connolly (Ronan Murray 67), Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban.
St Patrick's Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Simon Madden, Kevin Toner, Michael Leahy, Ian Bermingham; Conor Clifford (Killian Brennan 83), Lee Desmond, Jamie Lennon; Conan Byrne (Neil Byrne 62), Jake Keegan, Ryan Brennan.
Referee: Rob Harvey.