St Patrick's Athletic are poised to confirm their rating as the team of the decade in Irish football after the most critical defence so far of the Premier Division title at Richmond Park last evening.
Victory moved them three points clear of Cork City and, with only Shamrock Rovers and Bray Wanderers barring the way to a third title win in nine years, reprieve is difficult to envisage for the club which has pushed them all season.
Paul Osam's name has long been interwoven into St Patrick's new affluence and, fittingly, he scored the goal which separated the teams at the end of a game which failed to take flame for all of an hour.
Taking over the captaincy from Eddie Gormley, ruled out through injury in spite of the pre-match optimism, Osam strode into the breach to lift the increasingly inevitable prospect of a stalemate.
Earlier, a resourceful Cork defence had minimised the threat presented by the big man by shadowing him so closely in setpiece situations that he was never able to exploit the advantages his 6 ft 3 ins frame normally gives him.
However, their concentration wavered momentarily in the 74th minute - and sadly for them it cost them the game and probably their chance of taking the title to the south.
Trevor Molloy's corner just cleared the big men in the centre of the defence and when Martin Reilly headed it back, Osam, unmarked, was left with the simple task of heading home from no more than a couple of yards. In such moments are titles won and lost.
If that was the defining touch of opportunism, the game had earlier turned on two controversial refereeing decisions. Kelvin Flanagan, embroiled in a war of attrition with Jeff Clarke for much of the game, had earlier been booked when he was again fractionally late with the tackle on the St Patrick's player in the 59th minute and despite Cork's protests, the sending-off was then a mere formality.
In that moment, the tide of battle turned and Cork may have sensed that it was not their night when Mark Herrick, a genuine contender for the man of the match award, saw his header scrambled away by Trevor Wood in the 63rd minute, and it appeared to touch Leon Braithwaite's arm on the way out.
Cork claimed that the ball was over the line before the goalkeeper managed to get a despairing hand to it to spawn a battle of words which, one suspects, will continue to rage for some time to come.
"From where I was standing - and I was pretty close to the action - the ball was over the line," said Declan Daly. "The referee put the whistle to his mouth to signal a goal but for some reason he never blew it."
But referee Dick O'Hanlon countered: "The ball did not cross the line and I awarded a free out for an infringement by a Cork player." It all contrasted with the anonymity of a first half in which even mature players of the quality of Martin Russell, Thomas Morgan and Patsy Freyne failed to impose any degree of skill.
With Packie Lynch orchestrating and Colin Hawkins and Stephen McGuinness lending great support, the home defence protected Wood so successfully that he never had to make a save of substance.
It was much the same story at the opposite end until the numerical equation changed and the introduction of Braithwaite at halftime gradually turned the screw on Dave Hill and Gareth Cronin in the pivotal positions for Cork.
Only then did Osam and Russell emerge to dominate the midfield skirmishing and release Molloy and Reilly on the incisive runs that at last stripped the opposing defence of its earlier authority.
Osam, now within sight of a fourth championship medal - he was a member of Shamrock Rovers' successful team in 1994 - was eventually nominated as the game's outstanding performer. But typically, he was quick to apportion the credits to the collective effort.
"Every player in the side made his contribution and in a game like this that was critical," he said. "Cork were marginally the better side in the first half but after that, I felt that we were in control. A single goal was always going to win it."
In a tough, uncompromising affair, the count of eight yellow cards and a red was still somewhat misleading, but in the end the better team got their just reward on the night.
All of 34 minutes had passed before either goalkeeper was seriously threatened. And then it was Cork, earlier deployed in a containment role, who pressed the start button to go close twice in the space of a minute.
Hill, turning Cahill's free back from the endline, directed the ball into the path of Caulfield and was entitled to a better return than a miscued shot from the veteran striker. Then a header was directed into Wood's arms.
It was rarely the occasion that the pre-match hype suggested but that, one suspected, was a minor consideration for the home supporters as they repaired to celebrate a victory that has almost certainly defined the roles of victors and vanquished in this absorbing championship.