Ciaran Callan at the Tallaght Stadium
Sean Gannon proved once again his invaluable contribution to Dundalk with a goal that gave the Lilywhites an eight-point lead at the summit of the SSE Airtricity League. Shamrock Rovers will feel the result was a harsh one following a dominant first-half display. But has been the case in a lot of games for Rovers this season, a possession dominant side is all well and good, clinical finishing is another thing. Sean Gannon proved that in abundance.
This was to be expected, a high frantic game that certainly lived up to its hype. No inch spared in this battle of Tallaght with the first blood nearly being drawn as early as the fourth minute. Following some clever build-up play from a free kick by Jack Byrne former Dundalk player Greg Bolger turned and shot on Gary Rogers’ goal only for it to whistle past the post. Early signs were that Rovers wanted to blitz Dundalk and kill the game before the away side could get going and it didn’t end there. Dylan Watts continued to press on the Dundalk defence with a curling effort that if Dan Carr had been more alert to the angle of the inswinging ball he could have caused serious issues to the Lilywhites back line. Dundalk looked to exert some pressure but they struggled to get behind the Shamrock Rovers backline. The home line continued to press with Jack Byrne sending in a dangerous free-kick to which Rogers had to ensure that he had his safe hands, any slip-up and Dan Carr was engaged to pounce. Dundalk’s left side of attack has been the thorn in a lot of sides this and Massey and Duffy linked up well but neither could play the ball into the area to cause a potent threat. Dundalk’s first attempt on goal saw Gannon begin and end the piece with some clever link-up play with both Duffy and McEleney, however, Gannon’s snapshot was always rising, his frustrations clearly showing. He would make amends later on in the evening.
Just Seconds later Rovers had had two excellent chances, first Dan Carr laid it off to Ronan Finn whose shot somehow was cleared off the line and from the resulting corner Jack Byrnes goalbound header was blocked by one of his own players. Dundalk was hanging on to this Rovers onslaught and only just. Jack Byrne unleashed a fantastic effort that beat Rogers and the crowd were on their feet the distinctive thud of the crossbar being struck denied Byrne and those in attendance couldn’t believe it actually stayed out. It seemed only a matter of time the hoops would lead.
The second half would prove to be a different story as Dundalk came out a different side.
All that was missing from the first half burst out of the seams in the second; bite, hunger, desire in abundance but more importantly Shields was beginning to exert his dominant midfield play winning the ball more often and this spurred the team onwards. Duffy was beginning to get the pieces of the ball on the outside and McEleney was beginning to put the head down and bob and weave towards a goal like puts fans on the edge of their seats. The groove was back. Rovers now had a game on their hands it was a case of how they were going to react to it. The game could have got over its already close boiling point when Dylan Watts breaking free of the Dundalk back line disposing of Gartland the ball and himself and Rogers clashed with the Rovers player going down. Rogers position was well outside his area and he was the last man back, the Rovers bench emptied with pleas of a red card, the fans were baying for it also. The man in the middle only issued a yellow and the reaction was one of pure anger from the home side.
As the game etched into its final third it could go either way, for all Rovers possession and push they still couldn’t pick the Oriel men lock. For Dundalk, it seemed if given the opportunity they could snatch it.
In reality, this was a case of who wanted it more.
Sean Gannon had huffed and puffed all night down that right-hand side to no avail. The former Rovers man was given a brilliantly weighted pass from McGrath and his side-footed effort slotted under Mannus and into the back of the net. The goal came out of nowhere and sent the away end into hysterics.
Dundalk sensing blood kept pressing on the Rovers defence. Gannon full of confidence had a long-range effort that just went wide but the biggest chance fell to Hoban. Latching onto a defensive mistake Hoban burst free and was two on two with on the Rovers goal with Duffy on to his left, he didn’t spot the runner and took his effort well but Mannus was equal to it.
Rovers had a brilliant opportunity to equalise when Aaron Greene picked up the ball in the area after Dundalk were simply cut apart but his effort flashed wide. After absorbing some serious Rovers pressure Dundalk broke free with McEleney who unleashed a vicious effort only for it just to fly past the post. It looked as if Rovers could have one last chance after Byrne sent the ball into the area but it hit off a Rovers player and wide.
It ended the game what was a brilliant game of football. The return of both Jamie McGrath and Robbie Benson could be the extra spark that could complete Vinny Perths masterplan.
The reaction from the Dundalk fans, players and staff were for all to see at the final whistle. They knew how important it was and how it can pave the way for the league title to remain in Oriel. But as we have seen, there is a lot of football to be played and “They all thought it was all over”.
A game of two halves and it could be the most important half of Dundalk’s season.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus, Trevor Clarke, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Greg Bolger, Joey O’Brien, Dylan Watts (Brandon Kavanagh), Ronan Finn, Dan Carr (Aaron Greene), Jack Byrne, Sean Kavanagh.
Substitutes: Leon Pohls, Ethan Boyle, Orhan Vojic, Joel Coustrain, Thomas Oluwa.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Chris Shields, Michael Duffy, John Mountney (Robbie Benson), Patrick Hoban (Georgie Kelly), Patrick McEleney, Dane Massey, Sean Murray (Jamie McGrath).
Substitutes: Aaron McCarey, Georgie Kelly, Cameron Dummigan, Daniel Kelly, Dylan Hand.
Booked: Trevor Clarke (12) Mountney (20) Byrne (24) Rogers (60) (Shields 69)
Sent Off: None