Linfield suffer heavy defeat as Champions clash marred by Dundalk sectarian chanting
Dundalk 6 Linfield 0 (Dundalk win 7-1 on aggregate)
It’s fair to say that the jury is out on the Unite the Union Cup after the maiden renewal.
This facile success highlighted the difference between the leading lights on either side of the border.
Vinny Perth rotated his full-time squad across the two matches, without any real cost to the performance levels. They were three ahead by the interval and assured of a trophy-winning end to the campaign, and the €50,000 prize.
Linfield made the trip down the motorway without their star striker Shayne Lavery - who is on international duty with Northern Ireland - and were a shadow of the side that impressed in spells at Windsor Park on Friday.
Dundalk looked fitter and stronger, a reflection of their status compared to a visiting side that still operates in a part-time environment.
This is why the top clubs north of the border are at least open to a debate about an all-island league because they are curious about whether it can drive up their levels.
Linfield have the fanbase and potential to be a football force if Kieran Lucid’s plan gained traction.
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But they’re well short of Dundalk’s level at the moment and that is why the lesser lights north of the border are fearful of being swallowed up if the leagues were to merge. This drubbing will probably do more harm than good to Lucid’s idea.
The debate is more nuanced than the football rights and wrongs, of course.
Unfortunate chants in both legs of this fixture highlight that there will always be idiots capable of generating negative publicity. The Dundalk fans who spent chunks of this game reeling off tunes from the Glasgow Celtic playlist only succeeded in embarrassing themselves.
The desire to ensure things went off incident free meant that Linfield fans were condemned to a security operation for this game which made bus travel mandatory.
Their convoy got lost due to roadworks and they only arrived minutes before kickoff.
All things considered, this was hardly an experience that is going to endear them to the idea of more frequent jaunts. That said, regular visitors to the substandard away section in Oriel Park could tell them that it’s nothing personal.
Dundalk’s need for a facility to match the quality of the team remains an obstacle to their progression.
An interesting winter lies ahead for Perth with European advancement the priority.
There was a farewell theme to aspects of this demolition with Jamie McGrath and Robbie Benson both on target in what could be their last outings for the club.
Benson is bound for a reunion with Stephen O’Donnell at St Patrick’s Athletic, while McGrath is considering options in England.
Georgie Kelly is under contract at Oriel but is also thought to be mulling over his future due to frustration at playing second fiddle to Patrick Hoban all season.
Kelly has thrived when selected and he was given the nod ahead of Hoban here, opening the scoring after a Dundalk counter inside seven minutes.
Comical Linfield marking allowed Brian Gartland to head home the second before McGrath drove the third into the bottom corner from the edge of the area after keeper Rohan Ferguson got himself in a fluster.
That was game over. Benson was acclaimed by team-mates after skipping through to chip the fourth over Ferguson before Kelly nodded a cross from Daniel Kelly into the net to complete a team move instigated by the rampant Michael Duffy.
The all-female officiating team, led by Women’s World Cup final ref Stephanie Frappart, were not presiding over much of a contest.
Duffy’s corner was converted by sub Hoban to complete the rout with a touch of comedy added to proceedings when Dundalk’s PA announcer accidentally declaring Chris Shields as the ‘Unite the Nation’ man of the match instead of the Unite the Union pick. He quickly realised his mistake and corrected it.
The slapstick nature of this second leg will lead to reflections about the future of cross border competitions, yet it would be foolish to make rash judgements on the basis of this exercise.
On and off the park, there are lessons that all involved will have to consider.
Dundalk: McCarey, Gannon, Gartland, Cleary, Massey; Shields, Benson (Mountney 68); D Kelly, McGrath (Lotefa 74), Duffy; G Kelly (Hoban 79).
Linfield: Ferguson, Casement, Robinson (Allen 70), Callacher, Clarke; Mulgrew; Millar (Reynolds 78), Fallon, Hery, Quinn; Waterworth (Shevlin 78).
Referee: S Frappart (France).