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Dundalk began the post-Sean McCaffrey era with a hard earned draw against reigning champions Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Friday night. In a highly entertaining game, Dundalk took the lead through Gary Shanahan on 18 minutes before substitute Daryl Kavanagh equalised
for the visitors. In a game of chances, Dundalk had the better and on another night may have claimed all three points.
The opening exchanges were scrappy with both sides struggling to keep the ball in play. Shamrock Rovers Stephen Rice was in the wars and received treatment and there was a booking for John Mountney.
Dundalk’s Chris Shields scuffed his shot from the edge of the area while for the visitors Killian Brennan’s free-kick was nervously dealt with by Peter Cherrie. Gary Shanahan almost got in behind but he lost control of the ball when it mattered most.
It wasn’t long before the Lilywhites went in front. On 18 minutes, Stephen Rice handled the ball on the half-way line. The free-kick was floated into the box by Nathan Murphy but the ball was only half
cleared. It fell to Liam Burns who headed the ball back across goal where Mark Griffin touched it into the path of Gary Shanahan who slotted into the net ahead of the advancing Oscar Jansson.
This stunned the champions and they failed to make any impact in front of goal in the immediate aftermath of the opener. An erratic Gary McCabe shot was the only chance of note until Gary Twigg came close for the Hoops ten minutes before half-time when he got in front of Liam Burns. But he could only direct his shot wide.
Nathan Murphy picked up a yellow card just before the break and from the resulting free kick, Shamrock Rovers had their best chance of the half. Killian Brennan shot from 30 yards and it crashed off Cherrie’s right hand post.
The ball fell to Ken Oman but he could only head straight at the Dundalk netminder. Dundalk forced a scramble in the Shamrock Rovers area but failed to make it count and the home side went in 1-0 up at the interval.
Dundalk had the chance to go two up right after the break when a Griffin corner was brilliantly headed by Derek Foran but he could only direct it over. Shamrock Rovers, in their first venture forward of the
half, went forward in numbers but in the end Oman could only head at Cherrie.
Captain Chris Shields almost got the Lilywhites second when goal scorer Shanahan broke from defence and played in Shields but his shot was well blocked by Hoops’ centre-half Craig Sives and Oscar Jansson easily gathered.
Dundalk continued to press forward but the visitors began to see more and more of the ball and their defence was eventually beaten just after the hour mark.
A Killian Brennan free-kick wasn’t properly cleared and after some head tennis, the ball fell to Daryl Kavanagh eight yards from goal who poked the ball past Cherrie in the Dundalk goal.
Moments later Rovers should have made it two. Kavanagh again found space in the exact same position but he shot straight at Cherrie. Brennan almost made it three as his wonderful free-kick was
acrobatically saved by Cherrie.
Dundalk were restricted to counter attacks and almost went in front with 15 minutes to go. From a Rovers corner, Dundalk broke in numbers and at pace. Robert Waters picked out Ben McLaughlin inside the area and, clean in on goal, but his effort was erratic.
Gary Twigg saw a header go wide before Dundalk almost snatched the lead once more. Breaking at pace again, Nathan Murphy found space and his cross was directed goalwards by the outstretched leg of Hoops’ centre-half Sives. Somehow Jansson managed to get a hand to it to
direct it around the post.
Mark Griffin also saw a 30 yard free-kick saved by Jansson before Cherrie got down well at the feet of Gary Twigg to deny him a winner.
This was an excellent game of football and a wonderful advertisement for the league. In the end, a draw was a fair result but both sides will be wondering what might have been.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Ben McLaughlin, Derek Foran, Liam Burns (Robert Waters 65), Nathan Murphy; Paul Walsh, John Mountney, Chris Shields, Stephen McDonnell (Chris Reilly 90+2); Mark
Griffin, Gary Shanahan.
Substitutes: Finnian Farrelly (GK), Dan Cunningham, Michael Rafter, Garreth Brady, Bob McKenna.
Bookings: Mountney (6), N Murphy (42).
Shamrock Rovers: Oscar Jansson; Pat Sullivan, Ken Oman, Craig Sives, Conor Powell; Gary McCabe (Daryl Kavanagh 55), Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice (Stephen O’Donnell 83), Killian Brennan (Chris Turner 83), Billy Dennehy; Gary Twigg.
Substitutes: Reyaad Pieterse (GK), Conor McCormack, Colin Hawkins, Gary O’Neill.
Bookings: Sullivan (70), Turner (85).
Referee: Tom Connolly.
Extratime.ie man of the match: Derek Foran (Dundalk).