Danny North 17' -
A debut goal for Danny North was enough to give Shamrock Rovers a 1-0 victory over St. Patrick's Athletic in a poor opening day Dublin derby played out in front of a near capacity Tallaght Stadium.
It was a northerly wind that the Grimsby man had to thank for his opportunity to score, as a punted goal kick from Brendan Clarke caught by a heavy gust fell invitingly for Hoops' French debutant Max Blanchard.
His cushioned volley set North free on a diagonal run behind Conor McCormack, getting a start at right back due to Pat’s captain Ger O'Brien’s hamstring injury. North fired the ball calmly past Clarke from inside the box before wheeling away in celebration for what turned out to be the winning goal.
However, the Hoops did require a superb stop from stand-in keeper Craig Hyland to deny Ciaran Kilduff deep into injury time to secure a maximum return in the first game of the season.
Neither side produced many chances in a game dominated by a strong wind which was in Rovers’ favour in the first half. A mixture of injuries and suspensions, two for the Saints and a staggering five for Rovers, saw both managers set up differently to how they'd like.
With Killian Brennan unavailable for Saints, Liam Buckley reverted to an unfamiliar 4-4-2 formation for Pat’s with Kilduff and Christy Fagan up top. Hoops boss Pat Fenlon pushed defender Max Blanchard into midfield to cover the absence of Stephen McPhail, Keith Fahey, Ryan Brennan and Gavin Brennan.
The first ten minutes were uncharacteristically open, with half-chances at both ends coming about more as a result of mistakes than any real quality on either side.
The first clear opportunity fell to Saints' top scorer last season Fagan, who stole a yard on Conor Kenna to get on the end of Kilduff's deep cross. However Hyland was just about able to gather his looping header at the second attempt.
While the home side looked to set the early pace, Liam Buckley's side were having a good deal of success on the counter-attack. Chris Forrester was close to punishing Rovers as he raced through on goal but Hyland was again alert to the danger and cleared to touch.
Kilduff impressed on his return to Tallaght and he exposed Luke Byrne's lack of pace, shrugging off the Rovers full back's weak attempt to shield the ball to get a shot away.
Referee Dave McKeown, who handed out five yellow cards to Pat’s players and just one to Rovers, adjudged it to be the post rather than the outstretched arm of Hyland that denied the Kildare striker.
Any chance of free-flowing football breaking out had already been stifled by the increasingly powerful wind; Gary McCabe and Conor Kenna both had trouble placing the ball for free kicks, such was its severity, and it was no surprise that the wind would claim an indirect assist for the first goal.
Surprisingly, far from being chastened by his earlier experience, Clarke continued to kick the ball long and high and was caught out in more bizarre circumstances when his attempted clearance doubled back on itself and bounced out for a Rovers corner.
What was already a difficult night for the Saints ‘keeper almost became doubly so moments later when he failed to deal with a swerving long-range strike from McCabe and was fortunate to palm it out for just a corner.
Hyland in the Rovers goal, playing in place of the suspended Barry Murphy, had a nervy moment of his own when a miscommunication between himself and Dave Webster led to the centre-half prodding the ball straight to Fagan 12 yards out. Somehow the Hoops managed to scramble the ball clear though.
If the first half was short on quality, the second was lacking entirely as neither team was able to settle into the game. Fagan, McCormack and Jason McGuinness were all booked in quick succession for heavy challenges.
Having witnessed Clarke's struggles in the first half, Hyland in the Hoops goal should have tried a different tactic but he also adopted the same policy of kicking high and long with predictable results.
Liam Buckley introduced one of his young prospects, the creative midfielder Jamie McGrath, in an effort to stir his team. He was forced to bring in a second moments later as McGuinness, who appeared to strain a muscle, was replaced by Lee Desmond.
Desmond's first act of the game was to nudge an airborne Danny North inside the Saints box, and the striker fell heavily, but referee McKeown waved play on despite noisy protests from the home fans.
From there, the game meandered towards its conclusion as the Saints offered little in attack and Rovers were content to keep the game tight.
That was until, with the five minutes of injury time almost up, a kind bounce gave Kilduff a final chance to snatch an equaliser. While he did well to stab the ball on target, Hyland was on hand to tip his rising effort onto the bar and the chance was gone.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; Luke Byrne, Conor Kenna (c), David Webster, Simon Madden; Sean O'Connor, Pat Cregg, Max Blanchard, Marty Waters (Michael Drennan 89); Gary McCabe; Danny North.
Subs Not Used: Michael Kelly (gk), Tim Clancy, David O'Connor, Cian Kavanagh, Brandon Miele, Gareth McCaffrey.
Booked: S O’Connor (78).
St Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ian Bermingham, Jason McGuinness (Lee Desmond 76), Kenny Browne, Conor McCormack; Greg Bolger, Conan Byrne (Jamie McGrath 71), James Chambers, Chris Forrester (Darragh Markey 81); Ciaran Kilduff, Christy Fagan.
Subs Not Used: Conor O'Malley (gk), Lee Desmond, Sam Verdon, Aaron Greene, Cyril Guedjé.
Booked: Browne (42), McCormack (58), Fagan (64), McGuinness (58), Bolger (90+5).
Referee: Dave McKeown.
Attendance: 4,483 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Danny North (Shamrock Rovers).