Superb Shamrock Rovers open up 10-point lead with first win in Cork since 2013

Stephen Bradley’s side reaffirmed their title credentials with a long-overdue away victory over Cork City.

Sean Kavanagh celebrates scoring the first goal Sean Kavanagh celebrates after opening the scoring for Shamrock Rovers. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cork City 1
Shamrock Rovers 3

Paul Dollery reports from Turner’s Cross

IT’S STILL EARLY days in this SSE Airtricity League season, but tonight Shamrock Rovers gave the clearest indication yet that they’re capable of mounting a sustained challenge for a Premier Division title they last won in 2011.

Sean Kavanagh’s opener and a brace from Aaron McEneff gave the Hoops their first win at Turner’s Cross since 2013, a result they thoroughly deserved.

Cork City were 2-0 down when former Bohemians defender Dan Casey scored just before the break to set up what had the makings of an intriguing second half. However, John Caulfield’s side were comprehensively out-played by an impressive Rovers outfit, who restored their two-goal buffer thanks to McEneff’s outstanding strike in the 61st minute.

Coupled with Dundalk’s defeat to St Patrick’s Athletic, the rare win in Cork — which was watched by a 3,273 attendance — sends Stephen Bradley’s men 10 points clear at the top of the table. Even taking into account that they’ve played two games more than each of their rivals in the chasing pack, it’s quite a commanding lead.

Aaron McEneff shoots to score his side's second goal Aaron McEneff doubles Shamrock Rovers' lead. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The two teams who contested tonight’s game appear to be moving in opposite directions. Having not finished outside the top two for five consecutive seasons, Cork City no longer look like a team with title credentials. A fourth defeat in eight games so far this season leaves them in seventh place in the 10-team top flight.

When this evening’s game kicked off following a minute’s applause in memory of late RTÉ broadcaster Pat McAuliffe, it was Rovers who dictated the early proceedings. Greg Bolger went close to finding the net against his former club in the sixth minute, only to see his left-footed volley from the edge of the box sail narrowly wide of Mark McNulty’s post.

A somewhat subdued home support was sparked into life on 12 minutes by Karl Sheppard’s promising run down the left. The City captain’s cross into the box looked for Graham Cummins, who went to ground after jostling with Lee Grace. The striker’s furious reaction wasn’t enough to convince referee Rob Harvey that a penalty was warranted.

Within a minute of Sheppard heading a Kevin O’Connor cross wide, Rovers hit the front. Aaron Greene spread the ball right to Bolger, whose low cross was directed towards the near post. Sean Kavanagh got in ahead of Conor McCarthy to apply a tidy finish to an excellent move as the visitors helped themselves to a 22nd-minute lead.

Conor McCormack and Ronan Finn Ronan Finn of Shamrock Rovers and Cork City's Conor McCormack clash. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ronan Finn was the width of the woodwork away from doubling that advantage just three minutes later. The Rovers skipper cut in from the left before unleashing a superb swerving strike with his right foot that bounced over off the crossbar.

The home side had the ball in the net in the 27th minute. After James Tilley was fouled by Bolger, the on-loan Brighton & Hove Albion youngster took the free-kick himself. An inviting delivery was headed home by Cummins, but the linesman had him flagged for being in an offside position.

The game’s second goal arrived on 36 minutes and again it went the way of the visitors. Having skipped past Dan Casey, Aaron McEneff pulled the trigger from 20 yards. McNulty was wrong-footed by a deflection off Sean McLoughlin, which pushed Rovers into a 2-0 lead.

O’Connor stung the palms of Alan Mannus with a powerful long-range effort moments later, but City did pull a goal back four minutes before the break. As the Hoops sought to clear the danger from a corner, Conor McCormack sent the ball back into the mix. An attempted clearance by Roberto Lopes fell to Casey, who reacted well to steer his header beyond Mannus.

Aaron McEneff celebrates his sides third goal Aaron McEneff celebrates with Trevor Clarke after putting Shamrock Rovers 3-1 ahead. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cummins then did well to engineer an opening for a shot that drifted just wide as he attempted to level the game. However, on the balance of play, the Tallaght side deserved to have their noses in front at the interval.

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Rovers again did most of the pressing after the restart, with recent Ireland senior call-up Jack Byrne beginning to exert more of an influence on the contest. When their third goal arrived just after the hour mark, the 22-year-old former Manchester City player was the architect.

As McEneff found an abundance of space in a central position, he was picked out thanks to Byrne’s good vision and execution. The former Derry City midfielder needed a deflection to beat McNulty in the first half, but no helping hand was required on this occasion. The Cork custodian had little chance of keeping out a ferocious 25-yard shot from McEneff that had the sizeable contingent of visiting fans celebrating once more.

Despite having a two-goal deficit to overturn, City failed to lay a glove on Rovers throughout the second period. The league leaders retained possession with ease, McEneff and Finn missing the target as they looked for a fourth goal. Their failure to find one was irrelevant, as they coasted to a long-overdue victory on Leeside.

Stephen Bradley celebrates after the game Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley after the final whistle. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

CORK CITY: Mark McNulty; Conor McCarthy, Dan Casey, Sean McLoughlin, Kevin O’Connor (Shane Griffin, 72); Conor McCormack, Gearóid Morrissey; James Tilley (Liam Nash, 64), Garry Buckley, Karl Sheppard (Dan Smith, 80); Graham Cummins.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Trevor Clarke; Greg Bolger, Aaron McEneff; Jack Byrne, Ronan Finn (Dylan Watts, 82), Sean Kavanagh (Brandon Kavanagh, 90); Aaron Greene (Orhan Vojic, 76).

Referee: Rob Harvey.

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Paul Dollery

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