Ace striker Gary Twigg scored a goal in each half to give defending champions Shamrock Rovers a winning start to the new campaign, and it was more comfortable than the scoreline suggests, against an under-strength Drogheda.
The Boynesiders, missing all three Brennan brothers and Eric Foley through suspension, lined out in a 4-5-1 formation in a bid to stifle the Hoops, while the injured Declan O’Brien and Tiarnan Mulvenna surprisingly made it onto the subs’ bench.
In contrast, Rovers were almost at full strength and almost from the first whistle were the dominant team, with right-back Kerrea Gilbert pushing forward at every opportunity to lend support to Gary Twigg and Gary O’Neill in attack.
Drogs keeper Gabriel Sava was kept busy in the opening quarter, coming smartly off his line to deny Twigg, before diving low to his left to stop a low drive from O’Neill.
Ronan Finn then had a long-range effort blocked by Derek Prendergast, before seeing a volley deflected behind by Philip Hand.
Next to try his luck was the lively Billy Dennehy, but his low shot also got a touch off a Drogheda player after a free kick was tapped to him 20 yards out.
From the resulting corner by Dennehy, Craig Sives headed the ball towards goal and the ball ran off O’Neill in the six-yard area and away to safety.
Rovers remained patient in their build-up play and once more Dennehy went close when he teed the ball up for himself before lofting a volley narrowly over the bar.
But totally against the run of play, it was Drogheda who broke the deadlock on 34 minutes. Stephen Rice was penalised for a foul some 40 yards from goal near the touchline, and Dean Marshall’s inswinging free kick caught keeper Oscar Johnston napping, going all the way to the net as Drogs defender Alan McNally tried and failed to get a head on the ball.
Rovers finished the first half stronger, however, and after Finn nodded a yard wide of Sava’s left-hand post, Twigg ran onto Rice’s through ball, then went round the advancing Drogs keeper before sliding a low shot to the empty net for the equaliser.
The second half began on a promising note for the Drogs when Jack Flynn won their first corner of the game, from which Prendergast nodded over from Hand’s delivery.
But Rovers deservedly grabbed the lead goal on 53 minutes when Dennehy lifted a free kick into the six-yard area and the ball was nodded down towards Twigg, who lashed the ball past Sava.
If the large travelling support thought that goal would open the floodgates, they were sadly mistaken as Drogheda held their own, without ever posing a threat to Johnston’s goal.
Killian Brennan, who was otherwise quiet against his hometown club, hooked a 20-yard shot straight at Sava in the 68th minute, before Twigg drove a low shot across goal, and that was the signal for Drogs boss Mick Cooke to empty his subs’ bench.
Tiarnan Mulvenna’s arrival gave the home side much needed impetus, although it was one of the other subs who had a late chance of an equaliser, Cathal Brady hooking the ball over from Peter Hynes’ knockdown in the 88th minute but to no avail.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Sava, Quigley, McNally, Prendergast, Grimes; Marshall, M O’Brien, Gannon, Flynn, Hand; Hynes.
Subs: Tiarnan Mulvenna for Flynn (71min), Chris Kerr for Hand (71min), Cathal Brady for Marshall (83min).
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Johnston; Gilbert, Sives, Oman, Powell; Brennan, Finn, Rice, Dennehy; O’Neill, Twigg.
Subs: Aaron Greene for O’Neill (77min), Chris Turner for Brennan (81min).
Referee: Anthony Buttimer (Cork).
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