ROVERS DRAW

Shamrock Rovers v UCD

Shamrock Rovers v UCD

SHAMROCK ROVERS 1 UCD 1  Airtricity Premier League

A nice summer evening at Tallaght Stadium in South Dublin, with short-sleeve shirts being the order of the day in the Mediterranean-style heat. The groundsman had obviously been working overtime watering the grass. This was an oasis of green in a city where every back garden seemed to be parched brown. The match programme explained how there was a water well situated at one side of the ground and it was in constant use, much to the consternation of Bohemian FC during a recent visit, apparently, who did not appreciate the sprinklers being on during their warm-up.

There seemed to be a very good atmosphere in the main stand, with plenty of young people there with their parents or minders. Some of them took part in a mini soccer game at half time, displaying their skills for all to see. This is a great way to encourage new support, by bringing in children and making them feel welcome. It was noticeable that a number of Rovers’ supporters were non-Irish nationals whose children were possibly born in Ireland. There were also strong warnings in the programme that racist behaviour of any kind would not be tolerated by the club. Full marks to Rovers for their approach.

Shamrock Rovers v UCD

Shamrock Rovers v UCD

Rovers star on the day was a 29 year-old Libyan Eamon Zayed, who was signed by the club earlier this month. He has played for a number of League of Ireland clubs. The player, capped 12 times at under 21 level for the Republic of Ireland, has in recent years gained valuable international football experience playing with Libya whilst playing his club football in Iran. In 2011 the striker signed for Tehran Pro League club Persepolis where he was part of their Asian Football Confederation Champions League squad.

Shamrock Rovers v UCD

Shamrock Rovers v UCD

Zayed’s score in the 24th minute gave Rovers a good start. The students did not look as sharp in the first half as they had done three weeks ago against Cork City at Belfield. Their equaliser in the second half came against the run of play. In fact, I was looking down at this picture I had just taken on my iphone when College through Robbie Benson had the ball in the net in the 65th minute. I put on my AFC Wimbledon polo shirt this morning when I left Belfast and it was coincidental that I wore it to the match, but I am always glad to support both the real Dons and Rovers. By the way, you can see a sort of worried look on the face of the Rovers supporter behind me with a green cap!

Michael Fisher at Tallaght Stadium (main stand)

Michael Fisher at Tallaght Stadium (main stand)

So the spoils were shared and Rovers dropped two valuable points, which will not please their manager Trevor Croly. By the way the referee (and I thought he did a good job) was from Monaghan, Paul McLaughlin, who it turns out is a Garda from Inishowen, Co.Donegal. He has been on the League of Ireland referee panel since 2008.

Shamrock Rovers Manager Trevor Croly

Shamrock Rovers Manager Trevor Croly

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SETANTA CUP 2nd LEG

Coleraine 0 (1) Shamrock Rovers 2 (0)
A great result for the Hoops tonight at the Showgrounds.

That’s as far as I got when my mobile phone battery ran out as I travelled on the train back to Belfast, making use of the excellent wi-fi facilities the new rolling stock has. Thanks Translink! Now that I am back home by midnight, I can complete the task and add my photos.

Jay McGuinness

Jason McGuinness

This was a much better performance by Rovers than in the first leg at Tallaght, when they went down 1-0 just before half time. The visiting fans sang their way home to Coleraine, I expect, as they were cheering their team throughout and were still in fine voice when they left Dublin.

It was the other way round though at the Showgrounds in the second leg. Trailing by a single goal, Rovers were quick off the mark and showed a determination that had been lacking in the first leg. Jason McGuinness had the first chance from a free kick, but his effort went wide. Striker Mark Quigley gave them the goal they were looking for in the seventh minute, with a fine six-yard volley.

Coleraine took time to establish themselves and after 27 minutes had their first chance with a Stephen Lowry header. Shane Jennings then sent a shot just wide when a corner was flicked on by Lowry. Ruairi Harkin also came close.

Rovers wind down

Rovers wind down

Eight minutes into the second half, Gary McCabe became the first of three Rovers’ players to receive a yellow card. A James Chambers shot was tipped onto the bar by the Coleraine keeper Michael Doherty and the visitors had another chance within a minute, from the resulting corner. P1100321 (2) (640x526)

Rovers kept up the pressure but it needed two substitutions by manager Trevor Croly before the right combination could be found. Strikers Ciarán Kilduff and Thomas Stewart were brought on in the 69th and 77th minutes respectively.  With two minutes of additional time just called and just as it seemed the match was going into extra time, the decisive strike came, thanks to Kilduff whose shot found the bottom corner of the net after a scramble in the goalmouth. It marked the first win in a competitive match for the new Rovers’ manager, who was appointed in November last year before the start of the new Airtricity League season in March.

In the second round of the Setanta Sport Cup, Shamrock Rovers have been drawn against Linfield, with the first leg at Tallaght on March 4th and the return a week later at Windsor Park, not far away from me on the Lisburn Road. I hope that any true Rovers fans who travel North will be given as hospitable a welcome as they got at the Social Club in Coleraine, where politics was put to one side and sport reigned. This was a truly sporting occasion of cross-border significance and I was also pleased to witness the friendliness of the Coleraine fans who travelled to Tallaght last week. These two Rovers’ supporters arrived in a happy mood and went home to Dublin even happier!

Come on You Hoops!

Come on You Hoops!

SETANTA CUP

Shamrock Rovers v Coleraine

Shamrock Rovers v Coleraine

SHAMROCK ROVERS 0 COLERAINE 1

Back in the days of my youth, I remember seeing one of the matches in a cross-border competition, the Blaxnit Cup. It might have been the second leg of the final at Dalymount Park in May 1968, when Shamrock Rovers lost 2-1 to Crusaders from Belfast, but took the first trophy 3-2 on aggregate. The following season, Rovers were again in the final but lost 4-3 to Coleraine, who went on to retain the trophy the following year by defeating Sligo Rovers in 1970. The Irish League side re-appeared in the 1972 final but went down to Cork Hibernians over two legs. The competition featured four clubs from the League of Ireland and four from the Irish League and it ran until 1974, when it was replaced by the Texaco Cup and then after a break, the Tyler Cup until 1980.

For that reminder about Coleraine’s previous Blaxnit success. I am grateful to David McClarty MLA, who was following my tweets from the ground on facebook. In one of my tweets I mentioned that one of Coleraine FC’s stalwart fans is the actor James Nesbitt, Chancellor of the University of Ulster, who was in Dublin on Saturday for the IFTA awards ceremony.

Since 2005 the all-island club competition has been known as the Setanta Sports Cup. This evening at Tallaght, the Hoops and the Bannsiders renewed their rivalry in the first leg of a first round match. I have been following Rovers at their new stadium over the last two seasons, but I don’t think I have ever seen Coleraine in “live” action.  I was impressed by the visitors and their vocal bunch of around 200 supporters who made the long trip to Dublin from the North-West.

Full Time

Full Time

The new-look home side were playing their first competitive senior game this year, because of the difference in soccer seasons in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. Before the game, one minute’s silence was strictlly observed by the teams and the crowd in memory of Tony Clare, a Rovers supporter who passed away recently. Then it was into action, but I missed the usual roar of the home fans and only one stand was in use. I also noticed that one of the banners behind the goalmouth had a picture of Rovers’ former striker Gary Twigg on it. He is now playing for Portadown in the Irish League, who lost 3-2 at Drogheda in the same competition.

Shamrock Rovers had most of the goal opportunities in the first half, with Mark Quigley unsuccessful on at least three occasions. Five minutes before the break, an injury to Ruairi Harkin forced him to retire and he was replaced by David Scullion. In what was to prove the decisive move of the whole match, in the third minute of first-half injury time, Scullion picked up the ball from Paul Owens and coolly lifted it over the top of the advancing Rovers’ keeper Barry Murphy.  Coleraine had taken the lead against the run of play.

Scullion nearly managed to double his side’s lead ten minutes into the second half. Quigley was replaced in the Hoops attack by Gary McCabe, who was involved in a few good moves along with Sean O’Connor. O’Connor came close with a free kick and McCabe likewise in the dying seconds of the game, when Coleraine had their goalie Michael Doherty to thank for keeping their advantage.

Coleraine fans at Tallaght

Coleraine fans at Tallaght

So the 200 or so Coleraine fans left Tallaght in a very orderly fashion and singing the praises of their team. The two sides will meet again next Monday at The Showgrounds, Ballycastle Road. There were three other cup games (first leg) tonight:-

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC 0 GLENTORAN 0

CORK CITY 4 Morrissey 16, Turner pen 26, 45+1, Kavanagh 69 CLIFTONVILLE 0

DROGHEDA UTD 3 R Brennan 8, O’Connor 14, G Brennan 60 PORTADOWN 2 A Burns 25, Braniff 43

SHAMROCK ROVERS 0 COLERAINE 1 Scullion 45+3

WEEKEND OF SPORT

Rovers win Dublin derby

Rovers win Dublin derby

Two great results for two of my favourite football teams. A visit to Tallaght stadium in Dublin, my first of the new Airtricity Premier League season, was rewarded with a convincing 4-0 win by Shamrock Rovers over Shelbourne. Mind you, Shels did not help their cause by losing a player after only seven minutes. Goalkeeper Dean Delany was red-carded for a foul in the box on Billy Dennehy. Gary Twigg converted the spot kick. A back pass from Stephen Hurley drifted slowly towards the goal, ending up in the back of the net, much to the amusement of the home supporters in the 5,000 crowd. Kick-off had been delayed for ten minutes because of the number of spectators waiting to gain entry. President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins was in the stand. Will be interesting to see the replay on RTÉ’s Monday Night Soccer show.

SRFC 4 Shels 0

SRFC 4 Shels 0

A long-range strike from Ronan Finn just before half time made it 3-0. Shels continued to battle against the odds but Aaron Greene added another for the Hoops, who had Gary McCabe sent off for a second offence. So both sides in the Dublin derby were reduced to ten towards the end.By that stage the three points were already in the bag for the Hoops, who remain at the top of the table along with Sligo Rovers.

 

Jack  MIdson

Jack MIdson

 

Less then 24 hours later I was delighted to see another 4-0 scoreline, this time in favour of AFC Wimbledon who were at home to Burton Albion. A badly needed three points to keep the Dons clear of the relegation zone in npower League 2, their first season back in the Football League. Glad to see Jack Midson is still sharing the top spot for goalscorers in the division with 18 goals. After the soccer, it was time to switch my attention to the RaboDirect PRO12 rugby matches involving the Irish provinces. On Friday night in a sell-out match at the RDS (coinciding with the Tallaght match) Leinster lost by a single point against the Ospreys, 22-23. Tommy Bowe was rested by the Welsh side but turned up as a guest on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show with Brendan O’Connor. Looking forward to seeing Tommy back in action for Ulster next season! Listening to some of the Ulster match away to Treviso the news was not good but by the time I got round to checking the result I was delighted to see that a last gasp try by Ian Whitten had secured a 23-27 victory. There was also time to watch the first half of the Connacht match against Munster shown live on TG4. An impressive performance by Connacht for forty minutes but not enough to match the strength of the visitors who went on to win 16-20. Finally some GAA thoughts. On Sunday I was anxious to see how the Monaghan footballers would do in their Allianz National Football League division 2 match against Galway. Monaghan lost home advantage because of the ugly scenes at Clones at a previous match and they had to play the game at a neutral venue at Pearse Park in Longford. The Farney men went down by 0-12 to 1-14 (17 points) and are now in danger of being relegated to division 3 next season. That would be a terrible shame as there are still some great footballers on the team. One of them is Paul “Jap” Finlay from Ballybay, profiled in this excellent piece by Keith Duggan on Saturday in the Irish Times.

SHAMROCK ROVERS SLIP AGAIN

Pre-match warm-up

I went back to the new Tallaght stadium a week ago (October 9th) expecting to see Shamrock Rovers moving to secure their first League of Ireland title since 1994. Sporting Fingal had other ideas and spoiled the fun for the Rovers fans who for most of the match were solidly behind the Hoops.

Teams line out

Rovers went ahead after 13 minutes, missed a 2nd half penalty and looked like holding the lead until the last 15. The visitors took control and a series of defensive errors saw Rovers concede two goals just before the final whistle. So Fingal went away with three points and Bohemians took the opportunity to topple Rovers from the top. Rovers had been hammered 5-1 away to Dundalk and suddenly their title hopes appear to be evaporating. No doubt manager Michael O’Neill will be taking them in for a good talking to before their final two league games. One thing I enjoyed about the game was to see the crowd pouring in to watch Irish soccer on a SATURDAY for a change, when no English Premiership matched were neing played.

Hoops prepare

There were more signs today of Rovers’ weariness when an own goal in the 90th minute meant that St Patrick’s Athletic managed a 2-2 draw in the FAI Ford Cup semi-final. The replay will be next Tuesday at Inchicore and the winners meet Sligo Rovers in the final. I watched them defeat Bohemians 1-0 last Friday at Dalymount Park and they played well.

Come on the Hoops

SHAMROCK ROVERS’ REVIVAL

I made my first visit to the new stadium at Tallaght recently to watch Shamrock Rovers. As a schoolboy I used to watch the Hoops at Glenmalure Park in Milltown, a ground with a great history. It adjoined our school rugby pitches. I can remember the great atmosphere there, patricularly during cup games against teams such as Waterford. Apart from an odd visit to Tolka Park during the long period when Rovers were homeless, I had not seen them play for many years. I arrived five minutes late and by that stage Rovers were a goal up against UCD, a side which only developed after my time at Belfield. There was a great atmosphere at the ground and the pitch and stadium looked well. Rovers went on to win 4-1. Whoever said that Monday night soccer wouldn’t work? It was a great advertisement for Airtricity soccer. I also went to the “Hunky Dory” stadium in Drogheda for the first time recently where the students were once again the visitors. The home side won by a solitary goal. The crowd was not big but the supporters (both sets) were enthusiastic and did their best to create some atmosphere. It’s the only pitch I know where one of the goals adjoins a garden wall and house extensions. Unlike the great space in Tallaght. It’s good to see Rovers again at the top of the league.

I intend to pay a return visit some time to see them in action. Come on the Hoops!