Dylan O’Connell reports from Tallaght Stadium
Second-half goals from Joey O’Brien and Roberto Lopes kept Shamrock Rovers joint-top of the Premier Division as the Hoops enjoyed a dominant 2-0 win over Cork City at Tallaght Stadium.
Scoreless at the break, the midfield pressure of Rovers was the difference in a controlled second-half performance Stephen Bradley’s side that saw them go within two goals of league leaders Dundalk.
It could easily have been an evening built on nerves for the Hoops, but from kick-off Bradley’s side where comfortable and dogged as they dictated the pace of the game.
Naming an unchanged side from Monday, Bradley started a midfield featuring Greg Bolger, Dylan Watts and captain Ronan Finn.
Against a trio featuring multiple league titles and experience gathered across the European stage, Cork City were overcome in the earliest of moments as they dominated through the centre.
This produced a succession of chances. Crosses from Trevor Clarke, clipped headers by Dan Carr and volleyed shot from Ronan Finn all contributed to a near perfect opening from the home side.
This play was further enchanted by Dylan Watts covering Gearóid Morrissey in the centre, restricting City to long balls to Karl Sheppard which left City without a shot in the first half.
Rovers were winning all the battles in midfield and Aaron Greene joined in, picking off a loose pass from Colm Horgan and allowing Rovers to counter.
Pushing forward through Greene, Jack Byrne ran forward and shot but the physical presence of Sean McLoughlin deflecting away.
Byrne was pulling the strings and allowing Rovers room to attack and, on the half-hour mark, he parted the City midfield, allowing Carr to break down the right flank but his cross went straight to Sean McLoughlin.
Rovers continued to push. Roberto Lopes had a spinning header nod inches wide, as a later free kick by Byrne fell to Trevor Clarke, the tiniest of margins denying the Hoops after McLoughin covered the far post.
Six minutes into the second half, Rovers took the lead. Ronan Finn started the move out on the left, the club captain cut inside to play it across the box to meet a charging Joey O’Brien.
Hitting it first time, O’Brien volleyed it across goal to give Rovers to lead, in what was his first goal for the club.
City tried to respond quickly as a chipped free kick by James Tilley seemed to deflect towards goal, but Alan Mannus easily caught it.
Rovers did not panic,and rather returned to their positions almost robotically and soon grabbed a second.
A header by O’Brien was turned away by Mark McNulty, as Byrne’s corner seamlessly met the head of Lopes who flicked into goal.
In the ten minutes between the goals, there seemed to be no pressure about Rovers, who returned to their shape, remaining disciplined to the final whistle.
Even after City had their first shot through Pierce Philips firing at the edge of the box as a sprawling Alan Mannus covered.
City introduced Graham Cummins to play alongside Karl Sheppard, but the late attacking surge only produced one shot on target.
In the end, it was a comfortable 2-0 win for the Hoops in a mature win that sees them remain joint-top with Dundalk, and only separated by goal difference.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Trevor Clarke; Greg Bolger, Ronan Finn, Jack Byrne; Dylan Watts (Brandon Kavanagh 81), Dan Carr (Ethan Boyle 76), Aaron Greene (Dean Dillon 84).
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Joel Coustrain, Thomas Oluwa, Orhan Vojic.
Bookings: Ronan Finn (6), Dan Carr (34).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Colm Horgan, Conor McCarthy, Sean McLoughlin, Kevin O’Connor; Gearoid Morrissey (Pierce Philips 67), Garry Buckley (Beineon O’Brien Whitmarsh 80), Conor McCormack; Daire O’Connor (Graham Cummins 70), James Tilley, Karl Sheppard.
Subs not used: Tadhg Ryan (gk), Alan Bennett, Shane Griffin, Garry Comerford.
Bookings: Garry Buckley (1), Colm Horgan (43), Conor McCormack (49), Sean McLoughlin (60).
Referee: Rob Harvey.
Attendance: 3,112 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers).