For the first time in 45 years, Dundalk will open their league campaign with a trip to The Showgrounds to face Sligo Rovers when the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division gets underway this weekend.
While the Lilywhites and the Bit O Red have met four times on the opening day more recently, you have to go back to October 1976 to find the last time it occurred in Sligo.
The most recent opening day meeting between the pair was in 2019 in what was Vinny Perth’s first league match in charge. On that occasion Sean Murray marked his debut with a 49th minute goal that cancelled out Jack Keaney’s opener two minutes before the break as the sides settled for a 1-1 draw. That game was perhaps best remembered, however, for leg breaks sustained by Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney.
Prior to that Dundalk had last met Sligo on the opening day under Trevor Anderson on March 18th 2004 when Stephen Geoghegan marked his debut with the only goal as the Lilywhites won 1-0 at Oriel Park.
Sligo had the better of things on the opening day of the 1998/99 campaign when two goals inside four minutes from Marcus Hallows and Conor O’Grady earned them a 2-0 victory over Jim McLaughlin’s side at Oriel Park. Prior to that Dundalk had won 2-0, also at Oriel Park, on the opening day of the 1986/87 campaign courtesy of a Martin Murray penalty and a Dessie Gorman strike.
Liam Buckley’s side will hope the visit of Dundalk to The Showgrounds on the opening day is an omen as they went on to win what was just their second league title and first in 40 years when the Lilywhites last visited Sligo on the opening night in 1976/77.
On that occasion, the home side ran out 4-2 winners with the big news beforehand from the perspective of Jim McLaughlin’s side being that regular goalkeeper Richie Blackmore missed out having been injured in the 6-0 European Cup defeat away to PSV Eindhoven a few days earlier with Eddie Mahon taking his place between the sticks.
Despite that, Mick Lawlor gave Dundalk the lead in the game on 5 minutes but Paul ‘Ski’ McGee equalised with the aid of a deflection 20 minutes later before turning provider for Mike Betts on 43 minutes who left it 2-1 at the break. Sligo added a third on the hour mark through a header from Gary Hulmes but Jimmy Dainty pulled a goal back two minutes later to leave it 3-2. Betts, who had just signed from Rochdale, secured the points for Sligo 13 minutes from time however with a fourth.
The Dundalk side that day was: Mahon, McManus, Brian McConville, McLaughlin, O’Brien (Sheehy 80), Dainty (Flanagan 80), McDowell, Cavanagh, Tommy McConville, Lawlor, Devlin.