Having kept four clean-sheets in their past six games, Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Kenny reckons that defence holds the key if the league champions are to make this season a success.
The Hoops shut Cork City out to secure a place in the quarter-finals of the FAI Cup at Tallaght on Friday night, with substitute Tommy Stewart scoring a second-half brace.
And Kenny believes that if his side are to make a late charge towards attempting to retain their league title and catching runaway leaders Sligo Rovers, his back four will have a huge role to play.
“Keeping clean-sheets is the key to our improvement. The only goal we’ve conceded in the last five games has been (Mark) Quigley’s shot from 25 yards and generally in the last eight or nine games we haven’t conceded a lot,” he said.
“Our centre-backs had to play well (on Friday night) because if not we could have been in trouble.
“We lacked a bit of urgency in the first half at times. We sometimes had 10 or 12 passes and looked for that intricate through ball but Cork were quite compact in defence.
“Cork have some excellent attacking players, their front four are very good and their midfield is technically good. They will always cause you problems on the counter so we’re delighted to get through.”
While Kenny admitted that it wasn’t Rovers’ best performance of the campaign, he was relieved to have achieved such an important result even though there was a small crowd of 1400 in Tallaght to witness it.
“Absolutely. We needed that result, there’s no doubt about it.
“But it was a funny night because it was the cup, an earlier kick-off and live on television, so there was a smaller crowd.
“Season-tickets don’t count and when you compare it to the Sligo game recently when the place was heaving, it was a little subdued. There was a funny atmosphere.”
Although the first-half was disappointing, with few chances created at either end, Kenny felt his side's performance after the break was much improved and they deserved the win.
“Overall, we played much better than that when we drew 1-1 against Cork here in the league. We didn’t play too well, we had plenty of the ball but everything was in front of Cork.
“But we really came out of the blocks in the second half and in the space of six or seven minutes Cork had three counter-attacks, nearly scored and looked dangerous.
“Once we made the subs and scored we were comfortable though.”
Alan Smith has been writing for ExtraTime since 2008. He works as a full-time journalist based in Cork, working as a sub-editor for TCM and freelancing for a range of national titles. Follow him on twitter @alansmith90.