The first chance of this game came as early as the fourth minute when a Chambers corner was met at the back post by defender Craig Sives. His cushioned header dropped in front of Gary Twigg and he toe-poked the ball over the head of Quigley and off the underside of the Fingal crossbar.
The dramatic start petered out and it became a game of misplaced
passes, heavy touches and passages of play where you could see that
the ideas were good but the execution was poor.
It took 31 minutes for Fingal to seriously threaten the Rovers goal. A Conan Byrne corner caused mayhem in the six yard box before Shaun Maher got his head to the ball and directed it from close range onto the crossbar.
There was a big shout from the home crowd for a penalty when Maher expertly took the ball off Stewart in the 38th minute and it was Rovers who were starting to threaten as the half came to an end.
During the break John Giles came onto the pitch for a quick interview and diplomatically suggested that there might be an improvement in the second half.
Early in the second half Chambers floated a cross agonisingly wide of Sporting’s far post and a run from deep by Danny Murphy saw Twigg released, but the Hoops’ hitman was flagged offside.
Fingal had their moments too as Alan Kirby became more influential in the middle of the park and Shaun Williams continued his extraordinary work-rate.
Eight minutes into the second period Conan Byrne received a ball wide on the right and skinned Danny Murphy. His driven cross found O’Neill charging in on the six yard line and Alan Mannus somehow managed to block and hold the striker’s effort.
On 57 minutes Dessie Baker came into the fray, replacing a subdued Stephen Bradley. Within moments he had set up two chances, one for Twigg whose snapshot was touched around the post by Darren Quigley, and another for Stewart who shot into Quigley’s arms.
If Baker was starting to torment Fingal, then Conan Byrne was having a similar effect at the other end. On 61 minutes he crossed from the right for O’Neill to plant a point blank header on target. Mannus again somehow deflected the ball over the bar.
Sean O’Connor came on for Dennehy as the game entered the final quarter and added to the Rovers’ threat, scooping a shot wide with just six minutes left. But it was Dessie Baker who delivered the breakthrough goal with just four minutes left on the clock.
His corner was met by James Chambers and his flicked header sailed into the far corner of Quigley’s goal. You could have forgiven the home fans for assuming that it was all over, but Sporting Fingal have proved before that they are not a side to lay down and die.
Within a minute Glen Crowe, roundly booed by the Rovers faithful when he came on for O’Neill just after the hour, had poked a header past Mannus and put the Northsiders level. It was Kirby who created it, clipping a short cross onto the veteran’s forehead, and it was a fitting comment on his commanding second half performance.
In the dying moments O’Connor fired wide for Rovers and Dawson and O’Brien could have nicked it for Fingal. But that would have been too cruel. They finished all square and Johnny Giles’ reputation as a football soothsayer lives on. By the way, he’s tipping Spain for the World Cup.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Flynn, Sives, Murray, Murphy; Bradley (Baker, 57), Bayly, Chambers, Dennehy (O’Connor, 66); Twigg, Stewart (Rice, 73).
Subs not used: Duggan, Kavanagh.
Sporting Fingal: Quigley; Fitzgerald, Maher, Brown, O’Brien; Williams, Finn, Kirby, Quinn (Dawson, 85), Byrne; O’Neill (Crowe, 66).
Subs not used: Quigley, Gannon, James.
Extratime Man of the Match: Shaun Williams.
Referee: Alan Kelly