Dundalk’s hopes of a sixth Premier crown in eight seasons evaporated during a tough spring at Oriel Park.
But the current champions’ ambitions of retaining their mantle as the country’s finest received a significant boost at Tallaght Stadium last night.
On the night that Richie Towell’s Shamrock Rovers’ debut attracted much attention, it was his fellow ex-Oriel Park team mate Sean Gannon whose first half injury time goal crucially sent the home side into the interval 2-1 in front.
It followed hot on the heels of Liam Scales’ stunning equaliser that cancelled out Pat Hoban’s opportune lead goal for the Lilywhites.
Fifteen minutes from the end, Aaron Greene drilled home the insurance of a third to confirm a margin of victory that ultimately reflected the 90 minutes, even if Stephen Bradley’s side was tentative in the opening 30 minutes.
Ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League first qualifying round first leg at Slovan Bratislava, this was a welcome win and one that sends the Hoops three points clear at the top.
Towell will have more influential nights but he was still sharp, always probing and barking out instructions — even if his error gifted the visitors their opener.
For Dundalk, their recent revival has been halted and the yawning gap left by Chris Shields was there for all to see.
They face Wales’ Newtown in the Europa Conference League at home on Thursday.
Towell’s inclusion was expected and he was handed a slightly advanced central midfield role as Bradley opted to drop Danny Mandroiu to the bench in addition to losing Graham Burke to suspension.