Dundalk or Cork – Either Way It’s a Title for the FansStats
Dundalk v Cork City
It’s not often the fixture list throws up a title decider on the last day of the season. Michael Thomas’ goal for Arsenal against Liverpool in 1989 immediately springs to mind.
But only League of Ireland fans of a certain vintage will similarly recall Tom McNulty’s 73rd minute winner to clinch the 1991 title for Dundalk at Cork City’s Turner’s Cross.
There’ll be a sense of déjà vu at Oriel Park tonight as the same two teams battle to be crowned League of Ireland champions. Dundalk must win to secure a tenth league title. Cork City merely require a draw to guarantee a third since their inception 30 years ago.
That it comes down to a last-day decider is unusual. That it’s between these two famous clubs is extraordinary. Their respective recent histories mean a title win for either club will be a triumph more than anything for their staunch hardcore fanbases.
With Dundalk on the brink of extinction just two years ago, supporters’ “Save Our Club” initiative did just that. Their heroic campaign helped rescue one of Ireland’s most decorated clubs, and at the same time set the wheels in motion for their astonishing reversal of fortune. There was to be no fast fix to solve Dundalk’s problems. However there was a Fastfix, with the owners of this local company also contributing greatly to the club’s survival. Stephen Kenny’s appointment was crucial but without the fans’ intervention he would have had no club to manage.
Similarly, Cork’s rise back to prominence is a similarly heartwarming tale of a resolute local “never-say-die” attitude. In the last five years, the club has been served a winding up order, been demoted to the First Division under the name Cork City FORAS Co-op, and risen back to the top flight under the ownership of their fans.
That both sides dominate the PFAI Team of the Year comes as no surprise. What’s more indicative of their dominance this season is that there’s an argument for the inclusion of several more players from each side in the top flight’s best players of the season. The likes of Dundalk’s Chris Shields and Dane Massey would merit their place, while Cork City’s John Dunleavy and the Dennehys were also overlooked.
The term “fairytale” is much over-used in football. But this one is true. That both clubs even exist is the stuff of make-believe. But the dedication, loyalty and hard work of their devoted fans has helped write this story that, unfortunately, will only have a fairytale ending for one set of supporters.
Irrespective of who wins tonight, the FAI should award an extra winner’s medal to the Friends of the Rebel Army Society or Dundalk’s “Save Our Club” contributors. Or both. It’s hard to separate these two heroic, historic and humble clubs. So may the best team win.