A first half Mikey Drennan penalty gave new St Patrick’s Athletic manager Harry Kenny the perfect start with a victory over Cork City which was rapturously received at a packed Richmond Park.
This was a new-look Pat’s with Kenny happy to give starts to a raft of recent arrivals including a front three of Mikey Drennan, Rhys McCabe and Saints’ favourite son Chris Forrester, the latter’s return from England and Scotland sparking most excitement among the Saints faithful at the dawn of the post-Liam Buckley era.
Although there was the familiarly animated figure of John Caulfield still in or, more often, out of the visitors’ dugout, and no shortage of established names in their line-up, Cork City had a couple of new faces of their own in the mix too, with Dan Casey and James Tilley in from the start. But after his sparkling second-half performance in the President’s Cup, all eyes were on Daire O’Connor to see if he could again dip into his bag of tricks and sprinkle some magic dust on the first night.
And just to add to the expectation levels, this was the ex-UCD player Pat Dolan extravagantly hailed as ‘the Irish Messi’ this week– so, no pressure on the 21-year-old then.
When these sides met in the same fixture in the same venue one year ago, City roared into a two-goal lead – the second from Graham Cummins who was later sent off - only to be pegged back by Pat’s before the now departed Kieran Sadlier’s goal direct from a corner edged a five-goal thriller in favour of the then defending champions.
This time around, it was Karl Sheppard, wearing the captain’s armband, rather than Cummins upfront at the start for City – who also had an 11th hour change with Kevin O’Connor coming in for the injured Gearoid Morrissey just ahead of kick off - as, with Ireland manager Mick McCarthy among the big attendance of 3,479, the new season got under way in mild bud damp conditions on the banks of the Camac.
City might have taken another early lead, as they had done here last year, but after Pat’s had struggled to clear their lines, Conor McCarthy couldn’t keep his free header in the box on target, the ball looping just wide of the post. And in the 10th minute, a Dan Casey near-post header, from Daire O’Connor’s whipped corner, produced a fine reflex save by Brendan Clarke.
Pat’s weathered the early pressure and grew into the game, as their new players began to gel promisingly in the build-up, with Rhys McCabe prominent in pulling the strings, but Clarke was still the much busier of the two ‘keepers, and it took a brilliant goal line save in the 23rd minute by the Pat’s ‘keeper to prevent a Gary Buckley header, from a superb Daire O’Connor cross from the right, giving City the lead.
But, coming up on 30 minutes, an ill-judged Sean McLoughlin challenge on Conor Clifford in the Cork box saw the visitors shoot themselves in the foot, allowing Mikey Drennan to coolly beat Mark McNulty from the penalty spot.
Graham Cummins entered the fray just past the hour mark, replacing James Tilley, as the game took on a scrappy complexion in the second half, with both sides struggling to establish dominance. But, with their one-goal advantage, that suited Pat’s more than City and, though John Caulfield emptied his bench and his team huffed and puffed, the visitors laboured to fashion an equaliser, Conor McCarthy coming closest with a dipping volley which Clarke tipped over the top.
Much to local angst, six minutes of injury time gave City a final glimmer of hope but though they pressed right to the end, Pat’s held firm to record to send the Inchicore faithful home happy.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC:
Clarke, Madden, Webster, Toner, Bermingham (Coleman 96), Desmond, Clifford, Lennon, Forrester (Shaw 68), McCabe, Drennan (Miele 82)
McNulty, McCarhty, Casey, McLoughlin, Griffin, McCormack (Nash 75), K O’Connor (Comerford 70), D O’Connor, Tilley (Cummins 62), Sheppard.
Neil Doyle (Dublin)