Dundalk's rivalry with Cork City for hegemony in the League of Ireland has defined the second half of this decade.

But the last two years have seen Dundalk dominate to such an extent that their main competition has been in beating their own records.

Have Vinny Perth’s 2019 team had the best season of any in the club’s recent triumphant run?

Having won the league by 10 points in 2018 they retained at a canter with an 11 point gap in 2019.

Only twice in the history of the league have teams topped the division by more than 11 points - Bohemians in 2008 (19) and Athlone Town in 1982-83 (16).

Either the competition is getting weaker or Dundalk are getting stronger.

With the change in the number of Premier Division clubs following the 2017 season, points per game is the best way at looking at how accumulation of points has improved.

The 2018 team has the best record with 2.42 per game leading from 2.39 this year - ultimately just one point in the difference (87 v 86).

In the five other 36-game seasons, no team had more than 77 points. Dundalk won 10 more than that in 2018.

Year

Points Per Game

2014

2.24

2015

2.36

2016

2.33

2017

2.09

2018

2.42

2019

2.39

It appears Dundalk’s form and focus dipped after securing their most recent title with four games to spare and had one eye on the upcoming FAI Cup final.

A mammoth 31 unbeaten domestic games from April to October, which included 29 wins, came to an end when they lost consecutively to Bohs and Cork City. Before that, the Lilywhites were averaging 2.52 points per game which is more than was reached at any stage of the 2018 campaign.

Goalscoring has been less impressive in 2019 ending on 73. That is only better than the 72 from the non-title winning season of 2017 and is 12 fewer goals than a year before.

The fall could be largely due to Patrick Hoban’s individual tally dropping from by 16 from 29 to 13.

Year

Goals Scored Per Game

2014

2.21

2015

2.36

2016

2.21

2017

2.18

2018

2.36

2019

2.03

As a team, they were less clinical with their finishing. Although they increased their time in possession (55.62 to 56.13), they didn’t turn that into more shots. Total shots were down from 13.86 to 12.86 with those making the target going from 6.25 to 5.43.

Defensively, Dundalk bettered an incredible season from the year previous. 2018’s 0.56 goals conceded per game was a significant drop on a previous best of 0.70.

But that dropped further to 0.50 per game and a total of 18. It is the best record since Bohs 0.39 in 2008. 23 clean sheets from 36 games is phenomenal. The average number of shots they faced went from 10.08 to 6.89.

Year

Goals Conceded Per Game

2014

0.73

2015

0.70

2016

0.85

2017

0.73

2018

0.56

2019

0.50

However it is questionable whether that improvement can be solely attributed to stingier Dundalk defending.

There has been a goal drought in this year’s league with a drop from 2.78 goals per game in 2018 to 2.39 - the lowest number since 2009.

That plunge of 0.39 per game is the biggest for a single-season since 1969-70.

Year

League Goals Scored Per Game

2010

2.66

2011

2.79

2012

2.91

2013

2.64

2014

2.67

2015

2.77

2016

2.58

2017

2.77

2018

2.78

2019

2.39

The foundation of their 2019 success was an improved home record. For the first time since 2014 they went the season unblemished at Oriel Park in the league. No team had done so since 2006.

Their total of 16 home wins was two more than any other team has ever achieved. It was more wins than seven of the other nine teams managed both home and away.

Missing Chris Shields, a vanguard of their glory years, could have a negative impact on the outcome of Sunday’s cup final.

There was eight league games he did not start in 2019. In those Dundalk scored 0.52 goals per game fewer and conceded 0.16 more. Consequently, they took 0.66 fewer points per game without him - the second highest drop of any outfield player.

For six months this year Dundalk were unbeatable in the league. They persisted for 24 games without a loss and had an aggregate score of 56-9 over those games. That left previous best sequences of 18 games in 2015 and 16 in 2014 far behind.

However many at Dundalk may not judge their success on such numbers. Advancing in Europe and trophies in the cabinet are what ultimately count.

Luck of the draw, low sample size of games and variance in the quality of opposition make it difficult to compare European success. However it could not be argued that this year was better than achieving Europa League group stage qualification as was done in 2016.

The strongest claim of the current incarnation to being superior to any of its predecessors would be with success in Sunday’s FAI Cup final. It would give them a clean sweep of the four domestic trophies (including the President’s Cup), something not done before.

Their most plentiful trophy-winning year to date was 2015 when three of the four were won. That team went very close to perfection with a defeat on penalties in the semi-finals of the EA Sports Cup at Galway United the only hurdle they could not overcome.

What would add to the gravity of Dundalk’s achievement in winning this year’s FAI Cup would be that they would do so without playing any game on their home ground. They won at Cobh Ramblers, Derry City, Waterford and Sligo Rovers in reaching the Aviva.

Since 1970, when a fifth round was added to the FAI Cup, no team has won the competition without playing a game at home. In 2000, Shelbourne did so without ever being drawn at home but the initial drawn final was played at Tolka Park.

The 2016 season’s European heroics while winning the league by seven points has a strong case for being the best the club has seen.

But to win all domestic trophies on offer for the first time, following the departure of Stephen Kenny, together with a sensational amount of league points would be an achievement to rival anything seen before.

Watch live coverage of Peamount United v Wexford Youths in the FAI Women's Cup final, and Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup Final from Aviva Stadium on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player from 11:45am on Sunday.