SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Shamrock Rovers 0 Cork City 0
So, on the day that was in it, no total eclipse in Tallaght, nor even a partial one, as these two potential title-challengers had to settle for a point each after what was, in truth, a less than scintillating scoreless draw.
But having seen Shamrock Rovers dominate for long stretches — albeit without ever really threatening to put their opponents to the sword — it is John Caulfield who will be the happier manager, as his Cork side kept up their unbeaten run and put a stop to Rovers 100% record.
Striker Danny North and full-back Luke Byrne failed to recover from injury in time to make Pat Fenlon’s team while, for the visitors, the only change Caulfield made from the 5-0 trouncing of Limerick at Turner’s Cross last week saw new signing Kieran Djilali come in for Danny Morrissey.
Present and correct, and facing each other across midfield, was a wealth of Irish international talent in the form of Liam Miller and Colin Healy for Cork and Keith Fahey for the Hoops, with another former boy in green (and white), Stephen McPhail, consigned to the bench at the start.
After a scrappy, disjointed opening 20 minutes in which both sides frequently went long in a fruitless search for their respective front men, Karl Sheppard for City and Michael Drennan for Rovers.
Cork full back Ross Gaynor’s ball up the left flank finally got his hard-running striker in behind the Hoops’ rearguard. From the tightest of angles, Sheppard could only flash his effort across the face of Craig Hyland’s goal.
Miller and Fahey were isolated models of composure in a ping-pong sort of game that for a long time was woefully short of goalmouth incident, Gary Buckley spurning a rare half-chance for the visitors when he fluffed his shot from Johnny Dunleavy’s lay-off just short of the half-hour mark.
Then, when the Cork defence failed to deal with the lively Simon Madden’s cross, Mark McNulty had to make his first save of the night to keep out Drennan’s rising effort.
And seconds later, as the game finally came to life and Rovers continued to apply pressure, McNulty could only look on with relief as a long-range Pat Cregg effort whistled just over the angle of crossbar and post.
Cork were now struggling to create any attacking momentum, with Djilali virtually anonymous and Buckley unable to get forward to support the isolated Sheppard, and it was Rovers who should have taken the lead two minutes before the break.
Pushing forward, for once City full back Ross Gaynor lost possession to Gavin Brennan and when he transferred the ball to the far wing, Waters’ superb cross was headed firmly against the crossbar by Drennan.
From the restart, Rovers resumed control of the game again, albeit without threatening McNulty’s goal until the 60th minute when Gary McCabe’s surging run ended with him driving a low shot wide of the post.
City boss Caulfield finally made his move four minutes later, sending on target man Mark O’Sullivan in place of Djilali, Sheppard now going deep, while 10 minutes later one ex-international replaced another for Rovers as McPhail came on for Fahey.
Rovers continued to dominate, Michael Drennan heading just over from another excellent Madden cross as the game entered its final 15 minutes, at which point Caulfield opted to send on Gavin Holohan for Garry Buckley and then, in the 78th minute, emptied his bench by putting Danny Morrissey in for Billy Dennehy.
Suddenly, Rovers began to look vulnerable for the first time as the red shirts finally got forward in numbers, panic at the back almost letting in Sheppard.
Inevitably, the game ended with Rovers pressing again but hardly the kind of siege their increasingly frustrated manager and supporters craved. And with the Cork defence holding firm to the end, it was the Rebel Army who left Tallaght with a bit more to smile about.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Hyland, Madden, Kenna, Webster, D O’Connor, Waters (S O’ Connor 71), Fahey (McPhail 72), Cregg, G Brennan, McCabe, Drennan (McCaffrey 83)
CORK CITY: Cork City: McNulty, Dunleavy, Bennett, D Dennehy, Gaynor, B Dennehy, Buckley, Miller, Healy, Djilali (O’ Sullivan 64), Sheppard
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin)
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