In a game that was attended by the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and which also started 10 minutes late because of crowd congestion, Shamrock Rovers hammered Shelbourne by four goals to nil to maintain their lead at the top of the Premier League table. Goals from Gary Twigg, Ronan Finn, Aaron Greene and a Stephen Hurley own goal gave the champions the victory.
It was an eventful opening to say the least in Tallaght. In the 3rd minute Aaron Greene played a fine ball in behind the Shelbourne defence. Billy Dennehy got to it first. Through on goal, he was taken out of it by Dean Delany. Stand in referee Derek Tomney gave a penalty and then sent off Delany, who shook his head in disbelief at the decision.
After a three minute delay, which included Brendan McGill having to be replaced by substitute goalkeeper Paul Skinner, Gary Twigg stepped up to take the penalty and beat Skinner to score his 4th goal of the season.
Shelbourne responded well to their early setback and nearly scored straight after going behind. Philip Hughes hit a fine free kick, which beat the Rovers wall but went just wide. Indeed Hughes continued to be Shelbourne's biggest threat in the game. His hold up play was excellent but he often lacked support up front.
Rovers nearly went two up on the half hour. Chris Turner played it to Dennehy on the edge of the area. The Kerryman's shot was heading in but Paul Skinner made a fine save and tipped it around for a corner.
The champions did double their lead in the 32nd minute. Shelbourne's Stephen Hurley received the ball on the edge of his own area. There appeared to be no danger. However Hurley played the ball back towards an unguarded goal, with Skinner nowhere to be seen and the ball went into an empty net for one of the strangest goals of the season.
Again Shelbourne came close to scoring soon after a Rovers goal. Conan Byrne's right footed shot from the left edge of the area just went past the post.
Ronan Finn made it 3-0 on the stroke of half time. The Rovers midfielder ran unchallenged to the edge of the Shelbourne penalty area. He decided to have a shot and it proved to be the correct decision as the ball flew past Skinner and ended up in the top corner of the net. The champions went in three goals to the good at the interval.
The home team should have scored a fourth in the 49th minute. Ronan Finn's shot hit the post with the rebound fell to Gary Twigg, whose effort was blocked on the line by Lorcan Fitzgerald.
Shels had their best chance of the game in the 54th minute. Paul Skinner's long clearance was met by Philip Hughes. Hughes's accurate header found Paddy Kavanagh. Kavanagh hit it low but Oscar Jansson dived to his left to make a fine save.
The second half got a bit more scrappy as it went on. Chances were limited for both sides. That was until the 73rd minute. A long hopeful punt forward looked harmless until Shels defender Ian Ryan let the ball bounce. His headed back pass was weak and Aaron Greene managed to get there before Skinner to side foot it home to make it 4-0.
However it wasn't all rosy on the night for Stephen Kenny's side. Substitute Gary McCabe was already on a yellow when he went down just outside the Shels area in the 82nd minute. It was hard to tell if he was fouled or not but referee Tomney felt it was a dive and produced a second yellow for McCabe , which led to the game's second red card.
Killian Brennan nearly scored a stunning goal for Rovers in the 88th minute. He skipped past Gareth Matthews on the left and struck a super shot from the angle which beat Skinner but hit the crossbar.
Rovers saw the game out and finished as comfortable 4-0 winners. It may all have been so different if Dean Delany had not been sent off early on. However Shels will also know that at least two of the goals were conceded because of shocking defending. Rovers played some excellent football at times, with Ronan Finn in particular outstanding.
Shamrock Rovers: Oscar Jansson; Sean Gannon, Ken Oman (Graham Gartland 46), Craig Sives, Killian Brennan; Chris Turner, Stephen Rice, Ronan Finn, Billy Dennehy (Gary McCabe 62); Aaron Greene, Gary Twigg (Daryl Kavanagh 75).
Subs Not Used: Lee Steacy, Colin Hawkins, Conor McCormack, Gary O'Neill.
Booked: Oman (14), Rice (55), McCabe (69)
Sent off: McCabe (82)
Shelbourne: Dean Delany; Gareth Matthews, Ian Ryan, Andy Boyle (Stephen Paisley '81), Lorcan Fitzgerald; Conan Byrne (Anto Murphy 62), Glen Cronin, Brendan McGill (Paul Skinner '5), Stephen Hurley, Paddy Kavanagh; Philip Hughes.
Subs Not Used: David Cassidy, Brian Shorthall, Sean Byrne, Philip Gorman.
Booked: Cronin (42).
Sent off: Delany (4).
Referee: Derek Tomney.
Attendance: 5,000 estimate.
Extratime.ie Man of the match: Ronan Finn (Shamrock Rovers).