Shamrock Rovers rehabilitated themselves at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night, Gary Twigg netting a hat-trick as Stephen Kenny’s men scored six without reply against a shell-shocked Dundalk.
Following last week's hammering at the hands of St Patrick’s Athletic it was always going to be fascinating to see how Stephen Kenny’s side responded against a Dundalk side that rely more on youthful promise than any of the more potent qualities of their hosts.
But this is a Rovers side whose character seems moulded in the image of their new manager and if any adverb could be applied to the league champions early approach you would have to say it was thoughtful.
Rovers started slowly, patiently trying to build play through midfield, a tactic that allowed a sprightly Dundalk side plenty of time and space to make some moves of their own. Teenage full back Bob McLoughlin played a positive role down the right in tandem with Paul Walsh and McLoughlin’s low curling cross required some deft covering from Rovers right back Conor McCormack to deny Gary Shanahan an early attempt on goal.
It took 14 minutes for the Hoops to fashion their first chance, a shot from Billy Dennehy that whistled narrowly wide of Peter Cherrie’s goal, and the visitors coped well with Rovers intricate approach play, continually forcing them wide and away from the twin threat of Gary Twigg and Gary O’Neill.
But as Rovers gradually found their rhythm cracks began to appear in the Dundalk defence. Cherrie pulled off a magnificent one-handed save from O’Neill’s close range header on 21 minutes, Derek Foran blocking Billy Dennehy’s follow up on the goal-line.
The breakthrough came on the half hour mark when Gary McCabe, a constant threat down the right, delivered a free kick to the back post that Craig Sives managed to head back across goal for Chris Turner to head in from about two yards out.
With the seal broken, Rovers now stormed forwards. Ronan Finn cracked a 25 yard effort off the inside of Cherie’s left hand post and away, but the reprieve lasted just a minute. On 33 minutes McCabe picked out Finn inside the Dundalk area and his chipped cross was bundled across the line by Gary Twigg.
Rovers might have added a third on 40 minutes when O’Neill’s 20 yard shot was parried by Cherrie at full stretch, but only into the path of Dennehy whose side-footed reaction to the rebound slipped just outside the far post.
Sean McCaffrey responded with two changes at the break, Peter Thomas and Shane O’Neill coming on for Stephen McDonnell and Paul Walsh, but any hopes of a comeback were swatted away within a minute of the restart when Billy Dennehy curled a sublime 20 yard free kick around the wall and inside Cherrie’s right hand post.
Rovers continued to press forwards but always with an eye to keeping the ball at their feet and earning opportunities through the quality of their passing. It was an approach that was clearly enjoyed by the home side, Finn, Turner and O’Neill in particular revelling in the creation of precise triangles of passing play.
O’Neill looked to have extended Rovers lead still further just after the hour mark when his glancing header from Twigg’s cross crept past Cherrie and inside his far post, but referee Graham Kelly denied the striker, blowing for handball.
Dundalk managed a somewhat exhausted response soon afterwards, Shanahan poking a shot comfortably wide and Michael Rafter working hard to win the space from which he fired high over the Rovers bar.
Rovers were soon back in their groove, O’Neill weaving his way along the by-line before sending in teasing cross that Liam Burns did well to direct out for a corner. Finn then set up McCabe who drifted in through the inside right channel before skying his effort high and wide.
Dundalk almost caught Rovers out on 73 minutes when Shanahan broke through the home defence, only needing to square the ball to substitute Bob McKenna who had an empty goal in front of him, but Sives somehow slid back to intercept the pass.
Stephen Kenny sent Daryl Kavanagh and Aaron Greene on for the final flourish, an act that must have seemed extravagant to his opposite number, and a renewed sense of tempo quickly led to Rovers’ fourth goal of the night. With nine minutes left Conor McCormack sent in a cross from the right that Twigg met at the back post, nudging his header into the corner of the net.
That might have been that, but Rovers rhythm was such that they couldn’t have gotten out of it if they tried. On 87 minutes the tide of play sweeping towards the Dundalk goal washed McCabe's ball into the path of Twigg who slid a simple effort past the exposed Cherrie for number five. And in added time Chris Turner provided a delicately chipped ball for Daryl Kavanagh to flick his header in at Cherrie’s near post.
It was as emphatic a win as Stephen Kenny could have hoped for and the quality of the performance simply overwhelmed a Dundalk side that seem ill equipped to cope with such a challenge.
Shamrock Rovers: Oscar Jansson; Conor McCormack, Craig Sives, Ken Oman, Conor Powell; Gary McCabe, Chris Turner, Ronan Finn (Killian Brennan 84), Billy Dennehy (Daryl Kavanagh 80); Gary O’Neill (Aaron Greene 80), Gary Twigg.
Subs not used: Reyaad Pierterse, Sean Gannon, Graham Gartland, Stephen Rice.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Bob McLoughlin, Liam Burns, Derek Foran, Dan Cunningham; Paul Walsh (Shane O’Neill 46), Chris Shields, John Mountney, Stephen McDonnell (Peter Thomas 46); Michael Rafter (Bob McKenna 73), Gary Shanahan.
Subs not used: Ger Hanley, Luke Danville, Robert Watters, Chris Reilly.
Bookings: Shields (56), Shanahan (65).
Referee: Graham Kelly.
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Controversial maybe, but Ronan Finn narrowly edged it, despite Twigg’s three goals.