No dream finish for brave Hoops

AT THE end of a heartwarming season there was, sadly, nothing but cold comfort for Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght on a night when, despite a comfortable 4-0 four-nil win for Spurs, both teams bowed out of the Europa League — and, of more significance for the home side, Michael O’Neill took his own final bow as manager of the Hoops.

O’Neill said afterwards that it had been “a disappointment” to lose his last game by a heavy margin but conceded that his side were “well beaten by a better team”.

Thanking the players, supporters and staff at Rovers but, following the intervention of the club press officer, declining to expand on a previous comment that his departure had not been amicable, O’Neill said: “If I’ve left the club in a better state going forward, then I’ll be very satisfied. We’ve won three trophies in three years and the club has a lot more money in the bank than it had when I arrived, so I think we’ve achieved an awful lot in those three years.”

O’Neill confirmed that, next on the agenda for him is an interview for the vacant position of Northern Ireland manager — and he didn’t rule out the possibility that himself and his assistant Jim Magilton, who has already been interviewed in his own right for the post, might work together again in the future.

“I’ve been shortlisted for the job and the vacancy is there so I’ll do the interview and we’ll see,” said the former Northern Ireland international. “I’m no different to anyone else who has played for their country — it would be an honour to get that job and to manage the country but it’s still very early in my management career and it’s not something is going to make and break me as a manager. But if the opportunity is there, I’ll address it when it comes around.”

Unfortunately, opportunity had hardly ever knocked for O’Neill’s Rovers team on the final night of a marathon season in front of a full house at Tallaght.

Despite leaving most of his big guns at home, Spurs manager Harry Redknapp could still afford to field a team featuring household names like Jermain Defoe, Nico Kranjcar and Steven Pienaar. And with just a couple of days’ worth of training under his belt after coming back from injury, Croatian international Kranjcar produced a consummately cool performance in the middle of the park. But, after a promising start from the Hoops and a reasonably even opening phase, it was former Everton playmaker Pienaar who broke the deadlock in the 27th minute, turning adroitly to beat Richard Brush in the Rovers’ goal with a low deflected shot from the corner of the penalty area.

That was the signal for the game to turn into one-way traffic, with the dispirited Hoops conceding two more before the break, the first a sublime curling effort from the hugely promising Andros Townsend and the second, right on the stroke of half-time, a close-range finish from Defoe at the end of a crisp passing move from the visitors.

‘Promised You A Miracle’ was blasted out over the tannoy during the break but, try as they might, Rovers couldn’t add substance to the soundtrack. Not that the referee was helping their lost cause. Early in the second half the home support was incensed when Jake Livermore appeared to bundle over Karl Sheppard as the Rovers striker fastened onto a long ball over the top, but Swiss whistler Stephan Studer seemed to see the tangle as six of one and half a dozen of the other.

The arrival off the bench of Gary Twigg had the Hoops faithful in better mood, but they were up in arms again in the 72nd minute when, inexplicably, the referee failed to award a penalty after the tireless Sheppard was clearly felled in the box by Younes Kaboul.

With five minutes to go, substitute Iago Falque came close with a whipped shot from 25 yards out which beat Brush but not the keeper’s upright. At the other end, an inventive Pat Sullivan effort produced a fine save from Cudicini, the under-worked Spurs keeper ensuring that there would be no repeat of that wonder goal in Belgrade.

And Spurs promptly rubbed salt in Rovers’ wounds when, after a blatant handball by Pienaar had gone unpunished, substitute Harry Kane added a fourth and final goal in the 90th minute.

All that was left then was for Michael O’Neill to briefly join his players on the pitch for a low-key farewell as Tallaght Stadium rose to mark not just the end of a season but the end of an era.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Brush, Sullivan, Oman, Murray, Stevens, Rice (O’Donnell 45), Turner, Dennehy, Finn (Twigg 57), Patterson, Sheppard (Kilduff 75)

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR: Cudicini, Assou-Ekotto (Falque 73), Kaboul, Livermore, Rose, Townsend, Kranjcar, Sandro, Pienaar, Giovani, Defoe (Kane 78)

Referee: Stephan Studer (Switzerland).

Redknapp plays down fan fury

HARRY REDKNAPP has sought to play down accusations that he made a provocative gesture towards Shamrock Rovers fans who directed mocking chant at the Spurs manager last night.

“Not really. Did I make an obscene gesture? No, no,” he said. “I’ve spent enough time in Ireland to know what fantastic people live here and what great people they are. I’ve played in the JP McManus golf and met 50,000 of the nicest people I’ve ever met. When you get people together, they shout a load of nonsense. That’s football, that’s life. You go meet them after and they’re probably lovely people. I don’t hold any grudges.”

Although many observers feel Redknapp would have regarded further progress in the Europa League as a booby prize, Redknapp insisted he was disappointed Rubin Kazan’s draw with PAOK ensured Spurs exited the competition. “We got four goals but unfortunately the other game, well, I thought it might be a draw, I had a feeling, y’know? That’s how it goes.

“I wouldn’t be jumping up and down on the touchline if I wasn’t desperate to win. It wasn’t through lack of effort, that’s for sure.”

Picture: END OF THE ROAD: Departing Shamrock Rovers’ manager Michael O’Neill and Gary Twigg arm in arm at Tallaght Stadium last night at the end of their UEFA Europa League odyssey. Picture: Inpho/Donall Farmer

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