The FAI Cup third round offers those of humble origin a chance to stake a claim for giant-killing glory but such was the gulf between Athlone Town and Shamrock Rovers that few expected such a thing to happen here.
Michael O’Neill, dampened expectations still further by naming a starting XI that contained only three players who might not consider themselves regular starters. Ryan Thompson started in goal, Ciaran Kilduff got a rare start up front and 19 year old Sean Gannon made just his second full appearance in defence.
Rovers patiently probed for the weaknesses that even the most respectful among the crowd knew were there. Athlone, for their part, hunkered down for a long evening of studious defending.
For 12 minutes they survived the superiority of their hosts before a cross from the left by Billy Dennehy unlocked the door. Kilduff provided the touch to set up Gary McCabe who swiped in the opening goal from 10 yards.
Dennehy and McCabe were in exuberant form on the flanks and with the centre being controlled ruthlessly by Chris Turner and Stephen O’Donnell, Rovers poured forwards in search of more.
Kilduff headed a cross from Gannon over the Athlone bar on 21 minutes and McCabe thrashed a furious daisy-cutter straight at Schlingermann having roasted full-back Jamie Carr en route. Athlone’s Niall Scullion did manage a decent shot that arced wide of Thompson’s goal but it was the briefest of interludes.
Dennehy might well have added a second when breaking through the Athlone defence on 32 minutes but Darren Young’s tug on the Kerryman put paid to the chance while also going unpunished by referee Tom Connolly. Three minutes later Kilduff beat Schlingermann to a cross and his header was hacked off the line by Ronan Stack.
As half time approached Rovers captain Dan Murray had a go, powering a shot inches over the bar from the edge of the box and in the 44th minute Gary O’Neill smacked a shot on the turn off the butt of Schlingermann’s right hand post.
Within two minutes of the restart Chris Turner increased Rovers lead with a simple header from a Dennehy free kick on the right but, for all that their odds were lengthening, Athlone had more about them in the second period. Williamson volleyed over from a half clearance and Thompson made a hash of a cross from Stack, Murray coming to the rescue with a somewhat fortuitous clearing header.
However, the result was never in doubt. On 55 minutes Paul Danaher was called on to worry Kilduff wide before blocking the striker’s shot after he had run on to a superb through ball from Turner. A third goal was inevitable and it came on 76 minutes when substitute Dean Kelly ran on to a through ball to finish smoothly past Schlingermann
Kelly nearly added a fourth when played through just nine minutes from the end but his delicate clip past the Athlone ‘keeper from 10yards rolled onto a post and was cleared by Carr.
However, a fourth did come two minutes later when Dennehy took advantage of a collision in the visitor’s box and drilled home from the edge of the six yard box.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Thompson; Gannon, Murray, Sives (Flynn, 79) McCormack; McCabe, O’Donnell (Rice, 75), Turner, Dennehy; Kilduff, O’Neill (Kelly, 68).
ATHLONE TOWN: Schlingermann; Scullion, Carr, Barrett, Danaher; Stack (Gardiner, 65), Relihan, Young (Sweeney, 54), Tier (Higgins, 75), Williamson; Monaghan.
Referee: Tom Connolly