While Rovers manager Trevor Croly had the luxury of being able to field the same 11 which had put seven past Bray last time out, injuries and suspension forced City boss Tommy Dunne into a significant reshuffle, with 19-year-old Garry Buckley making only his second start in a centre-half partnership with Darren Dennehy, while John Dunleavy slotted into central midfield alongside Colin Healy.
Also present and correct — and making a bit of history into the bargain — were additional assistant referees Tom Connolly and Rob Rogers, the first time such officials have been used in domestic competition.
In front of a small attendance, the game’s sleepy opening did little to promote a sense of atmosphere until Danny Ledwith decided to take matters into his own hands in the 11th minute, the Rovers man booming a shot on goal from fully 45 yards out which had the back-pedalling Mark McNulty relieved to see the audacious effort just clear his crossbar to ripple the top side of the net.
And, in truth, that was about that for anything resembling excitement right up until the 38th minute when, in keeping with an error-strewn half on the part of both sides, the outstretched leg of Danny Murphy turned an innocuous-looking Mark Quigley free-kick into his own net to put the home side one up.
But, with the game suddenly bursting into life, Rovers’ celebrations had barely died down when, in a moment of welcome class, Daryl Kavanagh cut inside onto his right foot and, from 25 yards out, sent a screamer flying past Barry Murphy to get Cork immediately back on level terms.
The visitors having snatched an away goal with what had been their first real effort on target, the onus in the second half was clearly on Rovers to try and restore their advantage. Just past the hour mark, Trevor Croly replaced Quigley with Karl Sheppard as the Hoops struggled to break through a disciplined defensive Cork set-up.
Further changes in personnel ensued on both sides but the pattern remained the same, Rovers dominating possession but City, with Darren Dennehy outstanding at the back, restricting them to mainly long-range efforts which McNulty always met with a safe pair of hands.
Indeed, the closest Rovers came to regaining the lead was not until stoppage time right at the end of the game when, from a position almost on the goal-line, James Chambers was somehow unable to turn Sheppard’s powerful cross-shot into the net.
Seconds later, the final whistle blew to signal that Cork City had done more than enough to meet Tommy Dunne’s target of keeping the tie alive for next Monday’s return leg at Turner’s Cross.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Murphy; Sullivan, Foran, Oman (Rice 68), Powell; O’Connor (McCabe 74), Chambers, Finn, Ledwith; Quigley (Sheppard 63), Kilduff.
CORK CITY: McNulty, N. Horgan, Buckley, Dennehy, Murphy; Turner, Healy, Dunlavy, D. Horgan (Rundle 74), Furlong (D. Morrissey 72), Kavanagh (Behan 90).
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin).