This was a day for hard work rather than elegance or style. While the sun shone brightly at Oriel Park it was accompanied by a harsh wind that travelled lengthways up the pitch and made good football difficult to accomplish.
It was the visitors who battled the headwind in the opening half, Karl Sheppard almost making something out of nothing when he charged down what should have been a simple clearance by Dundalk ‘keeper Peter Cherrie. However, the bounce of the ball went the way of the home side and nothing came of it.
Dundalk held their own, mounting a few half hearted attacks that failed to trouble Alan Mannus in the Rovers goal, or overly excite the home fans. Ronan Finn almost played Gary O’Neill in on seven minutes but Colin Hawkins defended the situation superbly. However, there was nothing he could do about the opening goal which came in the 16th minute.
Enda Stevens played a ball down the left for Shamrock Rovers, the swirling wind holding it up just enough to drop into the path of Karl Sheppard’s run. Peter Cherrie might have made it had he chosen to come out but he didn’t and Sheppard was allowed a free run to slip the ball under the ‘keeper and into the Dundalk net.
Little of note occurred for large swathes of the first half barring some excellent defensive work from Colin Hawkins as he held on to the busy figure of Gary O’Neill. But with ten minutes left until the half time whistle Mark Quigley hinted that something was in the air when he got a flick on Daniel Kearn’s free kick from the left. It was just enough to force Mannus into a scrambled save at the foot of his right hand post.
One minute later and the sides were level. Billy Dennehy tipped Quigley over inside the Rovers box and, just as he had done at Tallaght on the opening day of the season, Jason Byrne drove home the resulting spot kick.
The second half saw the home side playing into the bracing wind but it was they who made the early moves. In the 53rd minute Ross Gaynor delivered a dangerous cross from the left that found only Rovers defender Ken Oman. Michael Hector then came close with an effort from a corner kick before Byrne pulled a wicked ball across the Rovers box that Hector failed to connect with.
Keith Ward might also have done better when, with a tad more courage, he may have got on the end of a promising cross from Gaynor on the left. But it was now the turn of Shamrock Rovers to apply some pressure. In the 63rd minute Gary O’Neill blocked another Cherrie clearance and after the ball had cannoned narrowly wide of the goal frame he found himself somewhat bizarrely booked.
Karl Sheppard then hooked an overhead kick inches over the Dundalk crossbar and, after a second loud shout by the visitors for handball, Pat Sullivan fired in a 25 yard effort that slipped narrowly over Cherrie’s bar.
The final ten minutes provided the most dramatic period in the game as tempers frayed and the urge to break the deadlock became more urgent. Pat Sullivan was booked for a wild swipe at Ross Gaynor who was himself booked moments later, perhaps a tad harshly, for a foul on Sullivan.
With just two minutes left and with pressure mounting on the home defence the ball was played into the Dundalk box where Sheppard spun around Ross Gaynor and appeared to be tripped. Referee Tomney played on to the fury of the Rovers players and one minute later Rovers boss Michael O’Neill was sent to the stands for something he said to fourth official Neil Doyle.
At this point the stands were boiling over but there was to be no decider, despite three minutes of added time. It is a result that maintains the Champions unbeaten away record and, when the dust has settled, Dundalk will accept is very much a point won rather than two conceded.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Simon Madden, Nathan Murphy, Colin Hawkins, Michael Hector; Stephen McDonnell, Keith Ward, Ross Gaynor, Daniel Kearns; Mark Quigley, Jason Byrne.
Subs not used: Paul Murphy, Stephen Hutchinson, Philip Duffy, Chris Kerr, Mark Griffin, Johnny Breen.
Bookings: Ward (41), McDonnell (61), Gaynor (87).
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Pat Sullivan, Dan Murray, Ken Oman, Enda Stevens; Gary McCabe (Paddy Kavanagh, 66), Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice, Billy Dennehy (Dean Kelly, 81); Gary O’Neill (Ciaran Kilduff, 72), Karl Sheppard.
Subs not used: Ryan Thompson, Pat Flynn, Conor McCormack, Sean Gannon.
Bookings: Stevens (45), O’Neill (63), Sullivan (86).
Referee: Derek Tomney.
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Colin Hawkins (Dundalk).