Goals from Ronan Finn and Ciaran Kilduff sent Shamrock Rovers into the semi-finals of the EA Sports Cup at Tallaght Stadium in a game that also saw both Rovers and Cork City finish with ten men.
On a beautiful evening for football a sparse crowd by Tallaght standards witnessed a game that failed to catch light until the half hour mark when a coming together between Robert Bayly and John Kavanagh raised temperatures on both sides.
Minutes later Ronan Finn tangled with Cork Midfielder Garry Buckley in an incident that swiftly descended into a melee. When the dust finally settled Buckley was shown a straight red for what appeared to be a head butt on Finn and Rovers’ Gary McCabe joined him having picked up a second yellow for his part in the kerfuffle.
As unsavoury as the incidents were they provided an adrenaline boost that transformed a fairly pedestrian affair into a full-blooded contest.
City had created the first genuine chance of the game when John Kavanagh’s shot on five minutes went off Craig Hyland in the Rovers goal before clipping the inside of the post. Garry Buckley was the first to react but his follow up shot was deflected for a corner.
At the other Luke Byrne’s low hit shot across the goal was cleared over his own bar by Dan Murray while Bayly had a well hit 20-yarder tipped over by City custodian Mark McNulty on 11 minutes.
Before a quarter of an hour had elapsed the visitors were forced into a change when Rob Lehane fell awkwardly but the introduction of Liam Kearney failed to spark John Caulfield’s team into action.
Rovers should have taken the lead on 23 minutes when good play from Finn set up Luke Byrne to cross from the left but Eamon Zayed, unmarked on the six yard box, failed to trouble the goal with a weak and inaccurate header.
Too many players were off the pace for the game to be any kind of spectacle but then, with half an hour played, Bayly skipped a rogue challenge by O’Leary before sliding into a tackle with Kavanagh that infuriated the Cork midfielder. Both players were booked with McCabe joining them courtesy of his verbal contribution to the affair.
Before tempers had a chance to settle, matters deteriorated. Garry Buckley tangled with Ronan Finn in the centre circle and was correctly sent off by Mr Tuite for using his forehead in the ensuing row. A melee ensued after which Gary McCabe was given a second yellow for grabbing David O’Leary by the throat, a good spot by lineswoman Rhona Daly given all that was going on.
The pace of the game increased noticeably in the aftermath and Kavanagh should have done better on 35 minutes having exploited some space in the Hoops defence, but he elected to pass to John O’Flynn when an attempt on goal seemed the more obvious choice.
City were duly punished for their profligacy when, three minutes before half-time, Conor Kenna breached the City back line with a superb pass that released the overlapping Simon Madden. His cross was inch perfect for the flying Finn who crashed his volley off the City bar before burying the rebound.
The half-time break allowed visiting manager John Caulfield to re-evaluate his team’s approach and the introduction of Mark O’Sullivan added more presence to the Cork attack, but the second half began without the whiff of cordite with which the first had ended.
City striker, and returning hero, John O’Flynn had an attempted flick at goal easily saved by Hyland on the hour mark and moments later the same player headed wide from Iarfhlaith Davoren’s cross. But City lacked any sense of ruthlessness, a quality that was most visible in Bayly, by far Rovers most effective player.
Bayly’s willingness to shoot whenever space and time allowed along with his ability to pick out accurate forward passes made him Rovers most potent threat in a game lacking any real inspiration.
With 67 minutes played Bayly flashed a volley just over the Cork bar. Then, five minutes later, City wasted a half chance when a cushioned header from O’Flynn was gently directed at goal by Kearney. It was a sequence that typified the visitor’s lack of a killer instinct.
As the game entered its final stage it was Rovers who looked the most likely to add to the score line. Sean O’Connor was released by substitute Kieran Marty Waters but McNulty kept his cool and stood tall as the winger approached his goal. Ultimately, O’Connor ran out of space and his shot, when it came, cannoned off McNulty and away to safety. Minutes later it was Waters with the opportunity but again McNulty saved.
City did create a golden opportunity with eight minutes remaining but credit to Rovers’ keeper Hyland who pulled off an extraordinary save from Danny Morrissey’s close range header. It was to prove City’s last hoorah and excellent work from Waters provided Ciaran Kilduff with the game’s second and final goal deep into added time.
Waters had to work hard to hold off the City defence as he worked his way towards the area and an astute flick found Kilduff in acres of space just 12 yards from goal. The striker calmly rounded the keeper before lifting the ball high into the net.
It was a thoroughly deserved win for the home side who now go forward to meet Bohemians in the semi-finals.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; Simon Madden, Conor Kenna, David O’Connor, Luke Byrne; Sean O’Connor, Ronan Finn, Robert Bayly, Gary McCabe; Karl Sheppard, Eamon Zayed.
Subs not used: Conor O’Malley (gk), Evan Osam, Jason McGuinness, Richard Purdy, Kieran Marty Waters, Dean Kelly, Ciaran Kilduff.
Booked: Bayly (30), McCabe (31), Finn (60).
Sent Off: McCabe (33)
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Michael McSweeney, John Dunleavy Dan Murray, Iarfhlaith Davoren; John Kavanagh, Garry Buckley, David O’Leary, Joshua O’Shea; John O’Flynn, Rob Lehane.
Subs not used: Kevin O’Brien (gk), Neal Horgan, Darren Dennehy, Liam Kearney, Billy Dennehy, Mark O’Sullivan, Danny Morrissey.
Booked: Kavanagh (30), O’Leary (44).
Sent Off: Buckley (32)
Referee: Paul Tuite
Extratime Man of the Match: Robert Bayly (Shamrock Rovers)