Cork City 0 Shamrock Rovers 0: There was only one winner from this battle at Turner’s Cross and it wasn’t Cork City or Shamrock Rovers.
As second and third cancelled each other out in a game that was always more about perspiration than inspiration, Dundalk’s victory over St Pats meant they were able to extend their lead at the top to six points while also retaining a game in hand over second-placed City.
Not for the first time this season, one wonders who among the chasing pack has the wherewithal to really put it up to Stephen Kenny’s men. A road accident which saw the Rovers bus as well as referee Paul Tuite snarled in traffic on their approach to the city meant kick-off in Cork was delayed for 15 minutes, but City wasted no time in attempting to get on the front foot, a Billy Dennehy free kick swinging wide of Craig Hyland’s post in the very first minute.
However, that was as good as it would get for the home side for a long while.
Alan Bennett, rated 50/50 before kick off, had failed to make the final cut, with Dan Murray called on again to bring his experience to bear alongside Darren Dennehy in the heart of the City defence while, for Rovers, midfielder Stephen McPhail was unable to come through a late fitness test on a back strain.
Going into the game, four draws for City and six for Rovers strongly suggested a share of the spoils would be the likely result and, though there was sloppiness in ball retention on the part of both sides in the ’s opening phase, it was Cork ’keeper Mark McNulty who was marginally the busier of the two keepers in the first twenty minutes. However, for much of the time, this was shapeless, helter-skelter stuff , the ball seeming to spend almost as much time in the air as it did on the ground, despite the best efforts of former Irish internationals Keith Fahey and Liam Miller to introduce a measure of composure. Rovers were happy to get 10 men behind the ball whenever Cork pushed forward, a problem the home side struggled to solve. By the end of a hugely disappointing first half, the most Hyland had been asked to do was pull a couple of hanging crosses out of the air.
After the break, it was Rovers who made the initial running, penning the home side back and prompting an increasingly-frustrated City manager John Caulfield to wave his players further up the pitch from the sidelines.
When they finally followed instructions, it produced the best chance of the game, Mark O’ Sullivan heading a Billy Dennehy corner back cross the six-yard box where, from point-blank range, Darren Dennehy headed straight into the grateful arms of Hyland.
Soon The Shed were baying in vain for a penalty when Mark O’Sullivan ended up on the ground claiming he’d had his shirt pulled by Rovers skipper Conor Kenna.
The visitors had again dominated possession for much of the second half, but were entirely lacking in a cutting edge and, with 10 minutes to go and Caulfield having emptied his bench, City finally sought to turn the screw, Garry Buckley heading a Colin Healy free against the bar and over. However, in front of a crowd of just over 4,000, that was as close as either side would come to edging a game which, ultimately, only Dundalk could regard with affection.
Cork City: McNulty, Kavanagh, Murray, D Dennehy, O’Connor, Healy, Miller, B Dennehy (Gaynor 80), Holohan (Buckley 65), Sheppard (Lehane 80), O’ Sullivan.
Shamrock Rovers: Hyland, Madden, Kenna, Blanchard, Byrne, Cregg, Fahey, G Brennan, Miele, North, R Brennan (McCabe 86), Drennan (Waters (78).
Referee: Paul Tuite (Dublin)
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