Duff overturns old boss Kenny as Shelbourne strike late to hand St Pat’s another defeat

Reunion of Duff, Kenny and Brian Kerr at Richmond Park an intriguing look at relations between Irish football’s leading figures

St Patrick’s Athletic 1 Shelbourne 2

Damien Duff’s Shelbourne go four points clear in the Premier Division. It took until the 96th minute before Evan Caffrey threatened to shoot with his right foot before shimmying onto his left to finish through a thicket of bodies.

Duff deserves credit for his three substitutes – Caffrey, Tyreke WIlson and Dean Williams – being involved in the dramatic, late winner.

St Patrick’s Athletic and their new manager Stephen Kenny needed a slice of the spectacular to stop the rot at Richmond Park. At the very end, Kenny was rooted to the spot, understandably shellshocked.

Earlier, Jake Mulraney’s gorgeous free-kick appeared to earn them a point at home to the league’s pace-setters. No luck. None at all.

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In the grander scheme of things, this result and Shamrock Rovers beating Derry City 1-0 in Tallaght, proves that there is never a dull moment in the League of Ireland. What’s more, Duff’s men face Rovers on Friday.

The smallest, usually irrelevant details have taken on more significance since Kenny returned to the domestic game last week. As a healthy Monday crowd of 4,811 trickled into the ground, Brian Kerr and Duff shared an embrace on the pitch. No surprises there. Their relationship goes back to Malaysia in 1997 when a teenage Duff lit up the Fifa World Youth Championship and Kerr’s kids took home the bronze medal.

The former Republic of Ireland manager was strolling over to the television gantry for an inevitable question on Virgin Media about Kenny expressing disappointment with Kerr’s criticism of his time as Ireland manager.

“I don’t drink coffee and haven’t had a cup of tea with [Kenny] for 25 years,” said Kerr of Kenny’s comment last Thursday about not seeking advice from the St Pat’s grandee.

Duff was next under the microphone. What did he expect from Kenny’s version of St Pat’s?

“Well, obviously, 4-3-3.”

All these little moments suddenly matter. Seconds before kick-off Kenny appeared from the tunnel. Duff was as far away from him as possible, inside the tiny managerial area, but Kenny caught his eye and initiated a handshake.

So, to sum up, Kerr and Duff remain thick as thieves, Kenny and Duff are cordial, but relations between Kenny and Kerr need a little work.

A few positive results might smooth out any tension. Two defeats at home in three days puts enormous pressure on Kenny and St Pat’s ahead of facing Bohemians at Dalymount Park on Friday. The ropey start to his five year contract can always get worse.

St Pat’s began well. Mulraney almost beat Conor Kearns at the near post but there is a reason why Shels are top of the table.

Sean Boyd has been in and out of Duff’s starting XI this season but his fourth goal in four games had a lot to do with Will Jarvis’s cross in the 15th minute. Boyd drifted off Anto Breslin and leapt over the full-back before his header gave Daniel Rogers no chance. Cupping ears in celebration, the striker wasted no time winding up the home crowd.

St Pat’s went in search of an equaliser as Jamie Lennon received the first of nine yellow cards on the night, for cutting down John O’Sullivan before Kian Leavy and Brandon Kavanagh went close.

Gavin Molloy’s calm defending had a lot to do with Shels leading 1-0 at the turn.

A facial injury forced Jarvis off, after Lennon’s forearm caught the winger mid-air, and there followed a succession of similar incidents as Mark Coyle needed attention following a collision with Chris Forrester before Boyd horsed through the back of Ryan McLaughlin. Dublin-derby-type interactions; O’Sullivan got the next booking for a heavy challenge on Kian Leavy.

Shels looked in control throughout the second half. Liam Burt had acres of space to run into and just McLaughlin to beat, but the Scottish winger choose to lean into the last defender and go down, prompting referee Rob Hennessy to caution McLaughlin.

Kenny had already gone for broke, sending on 16-year-old striker Mason Melia while keeping Ruairi Keating up front as well. Sure enough, Melia turned Mark Coyle to earn the free-kick that allowed Mulraney spark wild celebrations.

Pandemonium reigned when Caffrey scored, as Shels’ goalkeeping coach Paul Skinner was red-carded, flares flooded the grass and about a thousand away fans roared their version of The Cranberries song, Zombie: “He’s in your head, in your head, Duffer, Duffer, Duffer.”

St Patrick’s Athletic: Rogers; McLaughlin (Freeman, 87), Redmond, Turner, Breslin (Keeley, 46); Forrester, Lennon, Leavy (Nolan, 62); Mulraney, Keating (C Kavanagh, 88), B Kavanagh (Melia, 63).

Shelbourne: Kearns; Gannon, Molloy, Barrett, Ledwidge; Coyle; O’Sullivan (Caffrey, 59), Smith (Williams, 75); Burt (Wilson, 75), Boyd, Jarvis (Lunney, 32).

Referee: Rob Hennessy.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent