Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers offer no goals but plenty of bite in Tolka Park stalemate

Shels’ lead at the top of the table had been cut to three points with Rovers and Derry City sharpening their blades beneath them

Shelbourne 0 Shamrock Rovers 0

Ten-man Shelbourne stay top of the Premier Division by denying Shamrock Rovers the time and space they required to control this fiercely contested game.

Shels’ lead has been cut to three points, with Rovers and Derry City sharpening the blade, as both sit on 19 points in second and third.

This was anything but a dour nil-all. There was too much at stake between teams far too familiar with each other.

Forty-eight minutes into a frenetic Dublin derby, the Drumcondra crowd unfurled a banner in memory of the 48 Stardust victims. Almost unconsciously, activity on the grass slowed as the ball pinged about until the applause subsided. It was a poignant lull in a match neither team could afford to lose.


Just as Damien Duff’s Shelbourne could be running out of steam, Stephen Bradley’s Shamrock Rovers came to Tolka Park threatening to snatch top spot from them. The champions tend to shift gears in late April.

That focused Shelbourne minds, on and off the pitch. 4,628 showed up on a Monday evening as a who’s-who of rival managers were visible in the VIP section, alongside FAI director of football Marc Canham and interim chief executive David Courell.

It needed a long-lens camera to capture Keith Long, Alan Reynolds, Jim Crawford and Dundalk’s recently deposed boss Stephen O’Donnell and his successor Noel King in the same frame.

But they all rubbed shoulders under the stand at half-time with the media-shy Canham presumably holding court.

There were no goals in the opening 45 minutes but plenty of activity as Tolka’s sandy, heavy-surface was unable to stop Pico Lopes slamming a header off Conor Kearns’ crossbar.

Down the other end, Rovers goalkeeper Leon Pohls saved low from a Paddy Barrett snap shot after Matty Smith’s delivery.

Smith seemed like an obvious weapon for Shels wide on the right. That is until Joshua Honohan handcuffed him to the sideline. If Rovers pull off the five-in-a-row of league titles their young defender, signed from Cork City in winter, could prove the difference.

If not Honohan, the old guard will drag them home; Rovers only began to threaten when Rory Gaffney and Aaraon Greene came off the bench.

Seeking to avoid a third loss on the bounce, Duff deviated from the usual Shels line-up with a 4-3-3 clogging up midfield. That forced referee Rob Hennessy to monitor some biting challenges and a yellow card was even flashed at Duff on 15 minutes for offering advice to the linesman.

Stephen Bradley joined him in the book 15 minutes from the end.

There was almost a diplomatic incident around this tetchy period. During a water break, caused by injury to Kearns, Darragh Burns appeared to be eavesdropping on the Shels huddle. More advice was dispensed.

When the dust settled, Shane Farrell was dismissed for two yellow cards in a 12 minute cameo. Daniel Cleary appeared to feel his boot.

Hennessy was struggling to keep control as pushing and shoving broke out after each vigorous tackle. Fourth official David Dunne also had his hands full with Bradley and Duff being in such close proximity.

In the end, the managers hugged it out, honours even.

No rest for Shels as St Patrick’s Athletic come calling on Friday.

Shelbourne: Kearns; Gannon, Barrett, Molloy, Ledwidge; O’Sullivan, Lunney, Wilson (Caffrey 64); Smith (Boyd 74), Martin (Farrell 64), Jarvis (Williams 92).

Shamrock Rovers: Pohls; Cleary, Lopes, Honohan, Clarke (Kavanagh 72); Watts, Noonan; Burns, Towell (Greene 64), Nugent; Kenny (Gaffney 64).

Referee: Rob Hennessy.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent