It was a thoroughly deserved victory for Cork, a terrific performance crowned by goals of high quality from Billy Dennehy and Shane Duggan.
City’s players can only be admired for their commitment in the face of myriad problems off the pitch, but minus Joe Gamble, Timmy Kiely and goalkeeper Dan Connor – and having lost Davin O’ Neill to a knee injury just before kick-off – a reshuffled side was undone by Rovers as early as the third minute.
To make it worse for the visitors, it was former City man Pat Sullivan who did the damage. Ollie Cahill, galloping up the left, put in the cross and, when Dan Murray’s attempt at a headed clearance fell to Sullivan at the far side of the box, he fired in a drive which, though he got hands to it, Mark McNulty couldn’t keep out.
In the absence of 22-goal man Gary Twigg – confined to the bench – it was a finish fit to match a deceptively bright start by Rovers, as the movement and interplay of frontmen Dessie Baker and Graham Barrett initially rocked the visitors back on their heels.
However, Rovers conspicuously failed to build on their early advantage while, to their credit, the Leesiders’ heads didn’t drop. For long periods of the first half they played the better football and dominated possession, albeit without causing Alan Mannus too many problems in the home goal, though on the flank, Billy Dennehy was always a threat.
Only towards the end of the half, did Rovers threaten to increase their lead but, after a penetrating run and clever pass by Dessie Baker, Shane Robinson’s low angled drive went just the wrong side of the Cork post.
With the news coming through that Bohemians were cruising against St Pats’, Rovers knew that they couldn’t afford to let this one slip, but it was still Cork who continued to play the more confident and coherent football, as the game resumed after the break. And the visitors finally got what they deserved in the 65th minute when, as the Rovers defence backed off, Cork’s man of the match Dennehy struck a superb low shot from 25 yards out past the diving Mannus and into the corner of the Rovers net.
With the title pendulum now swinging back in the direction of Phibsborough, Michael O’Neill sought to boost the Hoops attack, firstly by sending Padraig Amond on for Dessie Baker and then calling on top scorer Gary Twigg to the loud acclaim of the Tallaght faithful.
But the cheers died in local throats in the 77th minute when Cork took the lead. Again Dennehy was the instigator, with a devastating run up the right, before cutting inside and slipping the ball square to Faz Kuduzovic. When the number ten played it wide to Shane Duggan, the sub didn’t need a second invitation to strike the ball sweetly with the outside of his boot, sending his shot sweeping into the Rovers net off the butt of the post.
The Cork goal lived a little dangerously at times in the final phase as Rovers attacked but the Rebels deservedly held out for a victory.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus, Sullivan, Maguire, Price, Birmingham Twigg 76), Robinson, Rice (O’ Connor 58), Chisholm, Cahill, Baker (Amond 68), Barrett.
CORK CITY: McNulty, Horgan, Long, Murray, Murphy, Lordan, O’ Halloran, O’ Donnell, Dennehy, Cambridge (Duggan 63), Kudozovic.
Referee: D Hancock.