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Dublin: 10 °C Friday 3 April, 2020
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Byrne screamer seals huge Rovers win over Dundalk in Tallaght thriller

An extraordinary Jordan Flores goal went unrewarded as Stephen Bradley’s side went three points clear at the top.

Jack Byrne celebrates after the match.
Jack Byrne celebrates after the match.
Image: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

Shamrock Rovers 3

Dundalk 2

OKAY, THERE’S THE comeback, the occasion, the ramifications and the winner. 

But let’s start with The Goal because, frankly, it would be indecent to do anything else.

It’s midway through the first half, and Tallaght Stadium is shaking as Rovers have made the most of their accumulating pressure to take the lead through Dylan Watts. 

Dundalk force a corner, and Michael Duffy has to dally over it as the referee irons out some penalty-area grappling. Stephen Bradley roars at Watts to adjust his position, waiting for something normal. 

Jordan Flores drifts impalpably from the Rovers defenders as he starts his zillion calculations, which are complicated by a pretty fierce wind. Duffy flights the corner like an arrow, and Flores cuts a broad arc through the air with his left foot, his right foot firmly planted and ramrod straight.

He gets his timing right, and his left foot meets the ball with a liquid whip right at the peak of the arc in a gorgeous, fleeting union of leather. Propulsion does the rest, and the ball flies beyond Alan Mannus and everyone remembers what it’s like to be bewildered. 

Flores wheels away, and Sean Hoare has his hands on his head in some kind of wonder. It was, in this writer’s opinion, probably Jordan Flores’ best goal of the week. 

Just being witness to something as stunning breeds an odd kind of validation; it gives you the sense of being part of something hugely important, standing right at the centre of the world. Michael D. Higgins, Mick McCarthy, and Stephen Kenny were present for it too and they presumably agree.

The goal totally upended the half’s momentum, with Rovers’ goal coming at the end of a spell of steady pressure. They lost Joey O’Brien to injury after just 12 minutes, which afforded Bradley a chance to recalibrate his side’s approach after a ragged, hectic start. They started sliding balls behind the Dundalk defence for Aaron Greene, and he should have scored when sent through one-one by Dylan Watts but instead bent his left-footed shot wide. 

Rovers did score minutes later through Watts, who rifled home at the second attempt from a Ronan Finn cross that was almost as good as the reverse Byrne pass that picked him out. 

The Goal marked the point at which Dundalk took over, with Rovers pushed back and Lee Grace forced to hack a Cammy Smith shot off the line. 

The momentum swung again, with Rovers the dominant side early in the second half and Flores substituted having been booked for a foul on Finn. It was his replacement Daniel Kelly who defied the run of play to slip a pass through for Pat Hoban, who cannily lifted the ball over Mannus. 

Rovers sent on Rory Gaffney for a debut and barely flinched. Greene almost forced a Gaffney pass beyond Rogers through sheer will, and was then unfortunate to see a header cleared off the line by Andy Boyle. Rovers did force the ball in a few minutes later, when Roberto Lopes stooped to steer a Byrne corner beyond Rogers. 

Rovers continued to dominate, with Byrne growing more and more influential. Byrne got a text from his captain Finn on Wednesday night to put him in the mood for tonight: “Friday night under the lights: that’s your time.” 

shamrock-rovers-fans A view of Shamrock Rovers fans at tonight's game. Source: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

Thus it was: minute 83 to be precise. Byrne had been shackled all night, but he eventually found some space, dropped his shoulder, and curled a shot from distance beyond Rogers. 

Mick McCarthy, unfortunately, had left shortly before Byrne’s intervention.

The rain swept down as Dundalk laid siege but Rovers held firm. This was a fabulous occasion for Irish football in front of a record Tallaght crowd of more than 7500, but of more tangible resonance is the fact that Rovers have roared three points clear of Dundalk, having not won any of these head-to-head games last year.

Buckle up – it’s going to be a hell of a title race.

Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Ronan Finn (captain); Joey O’Brien (Liam Scales, 12′), Lee Grace, Roberto Lopes; Neil Farrugia; Greg Bolger, Dylan Watts (Rory Gaffney 63′), Aaron McEneff; Jack Byrne; Aaron Greene 

Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Andy Boyle, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields; Cameron Smith (Will Patching, 77′), Jordan Flores (Daniel Kelly 57;) Greg Sloggett (Georgie Kelly. 85′), Michael Duffy; Pat Hoban 

Referee: Rob Hennessy 

Attendance: 7522 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from Tallaght Stadium

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