Champions sign off in fine style

HAVING already secured the 2011 Airtricity League title at Belfield last Tuesday, Shamrock Rovers’ final assignment offered an opportunity for the club to celebrate their achievements on home turf against a Galway United side that few expected would offer anything but token opposition.

As the half wore on, Rovers gradually began to find their party spirit. But it was not until the 31st minute that the champagne corks popped. Finding himself on the end of a headed clearance, Chris Turner executed an exquisite lob that drifted beyond the despairing dive of Winn and inches under the Galway crossbar.

Dennehy made it 2-0 on 37 minutes as his free from wide on the right was missed by both Turner and Winn, the ball bobbled gently over the line as the home crowd celebrated some more and Galway watched yet another defeat hove into view.

To their credit Galway played some decent football, Gilmore and Ryan being particularly impressive, but there was always the sense that Rovers just needed to step up a gear in order to provide the home fans with the goals they craved.

Dennehy and Turner both came close after the break and on 65 minutes the contest was ended as the visitors lost Rory Gartlan to a red card for a foul on Karl Sheppard and the Rovers striker dusted himself off to score Rovers’ third from the spot.

If there was any tension left in the Rovers camp it would have been confined to the bench where Gary Twigg was left to watch enviously as Sheppard, so often his understudy, caused merry havoc among the Galway defence.

Sheppard’s movement and ambition were a constant threat and his growing stature serves as something of a reminder of the strength in depth that inhabits Michael O’Neill’s side.

As the time ebbed away, thoughts turned from the pitch to the stand, where the league trophy glimmered in the floodlight, waiting to be claimed. There was still time though, for Ronan Finn to add a fourth goal eight minutes from time as Galway succumbed to the inevitable.

In truth it was a fitting scoreline and, as the ticker tape fluttered from the stands and the voices of the faithful were raised in salute, there was a sense that we had seen a team that may yet become an integral part of the history of this league.

Challenges still lie ahead in the form of PAOK and Tottenham Hotspur, who will visit here before the year’s end, but for the moment it was time to celebrate what had already been won.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Thompson; Sullivan, Oman, Murray (Finn 46), Paterson; Ricketts (Rice 64), McCormack, Turner, Dennehy; Sheppard, Kelly (O’Neill 61).

GALWAY UNITED: Winn; Gaughan, Yob Son, Sinnott, Gartlan; Ryan, G Kelly (Stephen Walsh 68), Murphy, Cauldwell (Duggan 81), Gu Kim; Gilmore (Sibanda 76).

Referee: Anthony Buttimer (Cork).

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