Pat Fenlon’s Shamrock Rovers side progressed past Longford Town into the quarter-final of the FAI Cup in Tallaght Stadium on Friday night. First half goals from Sean O’Connor, who was sent off late in the game, a superb strike by Gary McCabe and an injury time goal for Patrick Cregg earned the Hoops the 3-0 victory.
For First Division league leaders Longford Town, this was a chance to take on Rovers’ Premier Division team for the first time this season, having faced Rovers’ B side on three occasions so far. Tony Cousins’ men had former Rovers fan favourites and ex-captains Stephen Rice and Pat Sullivan in his team for this fourth round FAI Cup clash between the two clubs.
Pat Sullivan had spoken in the run up to the game of his famous volleyed goal in Belgrade that helped the Hoops qualify for the 2011 Europa League. But on this occasion it was McCabe’s volleyed strike that had Rovers fans on the feet celebrating in the first half.
The Hoops got the opener after 25 minutes after some slick passing in midfield in a move started and finished by Sean O’Connor. The former Pat’s man picked up a loose pass from Longford in midfield. He fed Dean Kelly and after a return pass from him and a one-two with Karl Sheppard, Sean O’Connor’s crisp left foot strike found the back of the net.
The goal was Rovers’ first clear cut chance of the game after the visitors on three occasions had Hoops ‘keeper Barry Murphy scrambling to make saves before the home side scored. First Kevin O’Connor cut inside onto his right foot to fire a shot just over Murphy’s bar.
Next Town’s strikers twice combined to force saves from Murphy. A Pat Flynn free kick from inside his own half was met by Gary Shaw with David O’Sullivan outjumping Conor Kenna to get a header on target. Robert Bayly then offered up Longford their next opportunity when he underhit a pass to Kenna at the back. Shaw got on the ball and fed David O’Sullivan in front of goal. Murphy was off his line like a shot to clear at the edge of the area as the striker with 19 league goals to his name this season couldn’t put away the chance.
The second goal was a sweet strike by McCabe for his ninth goal of the season. Kelly won the ball from Rice, setting up Sheppard’s shot. His effort looped out of the Longford box off Flynn but fell to McCabe whose powerful volley flew by Paul Hunt on 36 minutes.
The Hoops looked to add to their lead with two opportunities within five minutes of the break. They worked a short corner between McCabe and Sean O’Connor to Stephen McPhail. The Irish international’s shot on the turn was pushed around the Longford post by Hunt. The ‘keeper was then required to save McCabe’s shot after Rovers moved the ball quickly through McPhail and Kelly to keep the Town just the two goals down at the break.
Sheppard and Kelly playing up front in Fenlon’s 4-4-2 formation had the first chance of the second half with Sheppard’s shot saved by Hunt. With Longford’s strong attacking options, the Hoops still need to be on their toes but when Jason McGuinness dived in off his feet, Don Cowan was able to lift the ball over the Rovers central defender before the Hoops regrouped to concede a corner. Rhys Gorman’s driven free kick six minutes from time was the nearest that Longford came to a goal in the second half.
There were some nervous moments at the end for Rovers though as Sean O’Connor picked up his second yellow card with five minutes to go but the Hoops held out with 10 men, getting a third in injury time. Ciarán Kilduff’s through ball to Patrick Cregg allowed the former Hibs man to score on his home debut for the Hoops.
Tony Cousins’ men can now concentrate on their quest to win the First Division title, a division which they currently lead by two points. Hoops fans meanwhile can continue to dream about winning their 25th FAI Cup.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Simon Madden, Conor Kenna, Jason McGuinness, David O’Connor; Gary McCabe (Marty Waters 65), Stephen McPhail, Robert Bayly (Patrick Cregg 73), Sean O’Connor; Dean Kelly (Ciarán Kilduff 82), Karl Sheppard.
Subs not used: Craig Hyland (gk), Rob Cornwall, Shane Robinson, Ronan Finn.
Booked: Robert Bayly (64), Sean O’Connor (72 & 85) .
Sent Off: Sean O’Connor (85)
Longford Town: Paul Hunt; Noel Haverty, Pat Flynn, Pat Sullivan, Glen O’Connor (Jamie Mulhall 78); Don Cowan, Stephen Rice, Rhys Gorman, Kevin O’Connor (Lorcan Shannon 69); Gary Shaw (Peter Hynes 65), David O’Sullivan.
Subs not used: Chris Bennion, Mark Salmon, Ger Pender, Tom Morris.
Booked: Pat Flynn (72).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Attendance: 2,000 (estimate)
Extratime.ie Man of The Match: Dean Kelly (Shamrock Rovers)