President Michael D Higgins was the guest of honour at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night, but it was another Michael D – Shamrock Rovers' Mikey Drennan – who stole the show as his side maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a 3-0 win over Galway United.
There was a sombre air around Tallaght after news emerged last night of the death of lifelong Rovers fan and rock journalist George Byrne. A minute's applause was impeccably observed shortly before kick-off.
Rovers boss Pat Fenlon made three changes to the side that was held scoreless by Bohemians last week, with Stephen McPhail, Sean O'Connor and Gary McCabe replaced by Marty Waters and brothers Ryan and Gavin Brennan.
Galway manager Tommy Dunne made three enforced switches of his own; defenders Sam Oji and Stephen Walsh dropped out following their red cards against Longford last week, while David O'Leary failed to recover from a knee injury in time for kick off. In their stead came the threesome of Marc Ludden, Paul Sinnott and Kevin Garcia.
Drennan, starting in the lone striker position as Danny North continues to miss out through injury, had an opportunity in the opening minutes when Simon Madden's angled long ball deceived centre-half Andy O'Connell. The striker's first touch was poor, however, and Galway goalkeeper Connor Winn saved his shot comfortably.
Galway were the equal of their hosts, however, and had a good chance to equalise when O'Connell was presented with a free header from Jason Molloy's free-kick, but he failed to make enough of a connection on the ball.
Galway were then left to rue their wastefulness as with 18 minutes on the clock, a hopeful long punt from Madden deceived goalkeeper Winn who, rushing to claim at the edge of his area, failed to spot the advancing Gavin Brennan. His header left Drennan with the easiest of finishes to put the Hoops in front.
Rovers were really beginning to turn the screw as the half progressed and Gavin Brennan came to the fore, first volleying Drennan's knock-down narrowly wide before, following Fahey's deft flick, Marty Waters swung an inviting ball across the face of goal that was just an inch too far ahead of the arriving Brennan.
Galway weathered that storm and enjoyed a spell of pressure of their own. Alex Byrne – a gem in Galway's midfield – showed great spatial awareness to take both Cregg and Ryan Brennan out of the game before playing Jake Keegan through, but the American's touch took him wide and his left-footed shot didn't trouble Hyland.
The Hoops netminder needed to be a lot more alert less than a minute later, though, as Gary Shanahan's left-wing cross wasn't properly dealt with by the Rovers defence. The second ball dropped to Molloy 20 yards out, and his fierce drive into the bottom left corner brought a smart stop from Hyland.
An almost identical situation unfolded at the other end shortly after, as Ryan Brennan this time found himself the recipient of a poor clearance at the edge of the Galway box, and a powerful left-footed drive seemed destined for the bottom corner only for Winn to pull off a wonderful sprawling save.
Rovers started the second half on the offensive and were desperately unlucky not to extend their lead to two within three minutes of the resumption. Fahey showed skill and balance to dance through three challenges in the Galway area and while his shot beat Conor Winn, it also beat the left-hand post and trickled wide.
Where Fahey was unlucky, Ryan Brennan was wasteful. From the former Ireland midfielder's floated free kick, Brennan had the freedom of the six-yard box to pick his spot but he headed straight at Winn, having missed an identical chance late on against Bohemians last week.
Tommy Dunne introduced Ryan Connolly and Padraic Cunningham on the hour mark in an attempt to stem the rampant Rovers tide, and Connolly almost had a chance to level only for his chest control to let him down with the goal gaping, but there was an inevitability about the second goal when it finally arrived.
Again, there was a large element of fortune involved as Drennan scored his second of the evening. David O'Connor – impressive down the left hand side – cut the ball back for Drennan, and his hopeful strike from 20 yards took a fortunate deflection off Andy O'Connell, wrong-footing Winn at his near post.
The game was effectively over by that point, but Mark Ludden still had time to add to his side's miserable evening as he picked up his second yellow card for a scything challenge on the rampaging Simon Madden.
Rovers' complacency almost cost them with a minute remaining when Connolly drilled an inch-perfect cross-field pass into the path of Shanahan charging past a flat-footed O'Connor, but Hyland did brilliantly to block with his feet and preserve Rovers' run of 10 clean sheets at home in the league.
There was even time to add gloss to the scoreline as Drennan played in Miele – who replaced Gavin Brennan with five minutes remaining – and the winger announced his arrival to the Hoops faithful by smashing the ball emphatically into Winn's top corner.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; Simon Madden, Conor Kenna (c), David Webster, David O'Connor; Marty Waters (Sean O'Connor 71), Ryan Brennan (Stephen McPhail 71), Pat Cregg, Keith Fahey, Gavin Brennan (Brandon Miele 84); Mikey Drennan.
Subs Not Used: Barry Murphy (gk), Max Blanchard, Gareth McCaffrey, Gary McCabe.
Galway United: Conor Winn; Mark Ludden, Colm Horgan, Kevin Garcia, Andy O'Connell; Gary Shanahan, Jason Molloy (Ryan Connolly 58), Alex Byrne, Paul Sinnott (Cormac Raftery 90+2); Jake Keegan, Enda Curran (Padraic Cunningham 58).
Subs Not Used: Conor Barry (gk), Antaine O'Laoi, Connor Gleeson.
Booked: Ludden (30), Shanahan (73), Cunningham (80).
Sent Off: Ludden (77)
Referee: Rob Rogers.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Mikey Drennan (Shamrock Rovers).