Ronan Finn (left) celebrates his goal with Rory Gaffney. Evan Treacy/INPHO
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Rory Gaffney the star of the show as Shamrock Rovers take control of Champions League tie

Hoops striker set-up two goals, scored his side’s third but also could have been shown a red card on an eventful night against Hibernians of Malta.

Champions League first-round qualifier, first-leg

Shamrock Rovers 3
Hibernians 0

THIS NIGHT WAS all about Rory Gaffney.

The very, very good. And the ugly.

The Shamrock Rovers striker led the line superbly, delivering two almost identical assists in the first half to put the home side in complete control against Hibernians of Malta.

He then should have seen red in the 70th minute when a stray kick out on the ground connected with the face of Gabriel Izquier Artiles following a collision that saw both end up on the ground.

Deliberate or not, it was dangerous play.

A yellow was shown to both players but, had VAR been in place, that would surely have been upgraded for the frontman.

“I definitely caught him but I didn’t mean to,” he told RTÉ in his post-match interview.

It was a major let-off and, just when it seemed as if it might spark some kind of angry revival from the visitors, Gaffney then delivered a killer third goal in the 78th minute.

dylan-watts-celebrates-scoring-with-rory-gaffney Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

He took possession on the left wing, drove forward and played a neat one-two with substitute Aidomo Emakhu, whose return opened up the space in front.

Gaffney took advantage, striding into the box and sliding a neat side-foot finish into the far corner.

It was a genuine moment of class in the final third and would have stunned Hibernians all the more given that they missed a similar opportunity to half the deficit in the 62nd minute.

It was the one occasion they carved Rovers open, captain Jurgen Degrabriele passing from deep to send Thaylor through one-on-one. Someone who wants to be known by only one name really should have done better than scuff his effort off the outside of the post.

The pre-match talk from the Hibernians point of view centred around the grievances which stemmed from their last involvement in European action.

That also had a League of Ireland connection with the performance of referee Rob Hennessy in their Europa Conference League defeat to Riga causing major unhappiness — to put it mildly.

Hibs’ protestations led to a host of suspensions for this tie.

Manager Stefano Sanderra was serving a touchline ban, striker Jake Grech was also absent while first-choice defenders Fernandino Apap, Andreas Larsen and Andrei Agius were also unavailable due to the fallout.

If they were angry and determined to right some perceived wrongs they didn’t start with any kind of venom.

Indeed, it was only when Gaffney connected with Izquier Artiles in the face that they showed some fight.

Their players, understandably, expected referee Morten Krogh to show a red card.

rory-gaffney-with-dunstan-vella Rory Gaffney battles for possession. Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The anger at the decision from the away side was felt in the stands where one visiting club representative fumed at the referee.

Stewards and police needed to calm the situation and, once it did, the final quarter of an hour was played out with relative ease.

Especially when Gaffney struck the third.

It means the return leg in Malta early next week should be a formality and will allow Hoops captain Ronan Finn to add to his 48 European appearances.

Progress into the second qualifying round of the Champions League would ensure at least two further rounds as there will be games in both the Europa League and Conference League to come as a fall back.

Finn is now only six shy of the League of Ireland record in Europe held by former goalkeeper Gary Rogers, and on this night his was his first goal in continental action that set Rovers on the way.

The right wing-back turned home from six yards after a superb ball across the box from Gaffney in the 25th minute.

Gaffney continued to torment the Hibs defence and five minutes before the break he drifted out to the left side again, receiving a pass from Finn and picking out Dylan Watts near the penalty spot.

All the Rovers midfielder had to do was use the pace on the cross to finish first time.

It was as simple as that.

There was a scare after the break when Hibs substitute striker Terence Groothusen rifled a long-range effort off the top of the bar in the 52nd minute.

There was a brief lull until Gaffney livened up proceedings.

He left his mark all over this first leg to put Rovers in a commanding position.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus; Hoare, Lopes, Grace; Finn (c) (Gannon 81), Watts (Towell 81), O’Neill, McCann, Lyons; Greene (Emakhu 67), Gaffney (Ferizaj 85).

HIBERNIANS: Kone; Grech (Caruana, 90), Llerna Bravo, Rodolfo Soares, Izquier Artiles, Zerafa (Fonseca, 90); Thaylor, Vella, Diakite, Mensah (Groothusen HT); Degabriele (c).

Referee: M Krogh (DEN).

Attendance: 7,019

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