Drogheda 0 Shelbourne 2
Three points on the road papers over any cracks in this Shelbourne performance. A Daniel Hawkins goal, created by a combination of Conor Kane’s desire and Jack Moylan’s slickness, not long after the young Gaffer’s half-time speech, proved just the tonic.
Mark Coyle’s breakaway and neat finish put the cherry on top deep into injury time.
An hour before kick-off, the public announcer was either testing his microphone or launching a career in stand-up comedy: “Welcome to Head in the Game Park for Drogheda United versus . . . what’s the name of the other team?”
A few minutes passed before "Put 'em under pressure" screeched over the tannoy, ricocheting off the rusting shed that covers the tiny VIP stand. Out on the grass, Damien Duff looked bemused and unbothered in equal measure. Nothing new there.
This was Duff’s second night as a League of Ireland manager and the fuss around him has already subsided. Of course, every Shels game brings focus on this rare bird, this bona fide star, bringing his footballing intellect back to where it is most needed. But the night was not about the 42 year old, it was about the 2020 and 2021 first division champions proving they both belong at this level.
Because Drogheda is precisely the level that Shels should surpass in stride. Already described by Drogheda manager Kevin Doherty as one of two remaining “part-time teams” in the top flight, and having lost Mark Doyle to St Pat’s and Kane to Shels, the visitors were expected to dominate. That idea never materialised.
“I think the game will have an edge to it,” Duff predicted before a crowd of 1,463 arrived, “quite a few players in their squad are players we let go, they are obviously going to want to show me and show the club they were wrong in doing so.”
This was a thinly veiled reference to Ryan Brennan, who missed the tie through injury, having returned to his home town club after being surplus to requirements at Tolka Park. There was an edge but no more than to be expected.
Like last week against St Patrick’s Athletic, the first sight of goal fell to Moylan, with the same disappointing result. Dan Carr struggled on opening night but he timed a run to perfection, only for Moylan to ignore the striker before tamely shooting wide. The 20 year old would atone and looked the part by the finish.
For the rest of the first half it seemed like both sides were trying to outdo each on the error count. Shels clearly need a midfielder to dictate proceedings, with the injury prone Jordan McEneff, on loan from Arsenal and currently being used off the bench, while Drogheda just needed a spark. Dylan Grimes was hell bent on providing it with a mazy run and cut back that Chris Lyons miscued.
The Hawkins goal came at a crucial moment. Sloppy play by Drogheda’s Andrew Quinn, prompted Kane and Moylan to combine down the left before Moylan found the unmarked midfielder in Drogheda’s box.
McEneff eventually replaced Hawkins but the one goal lead forced the attacking midfielder into a running brief as Shelbourne’s 3-4-2-1 system retreated into s 5-2-2-1 with goalkeeper Lewis Webb ensuring they clung on for an important win. Or as Drumcondra’s most successful politician once said, “a lot done, more to do.”
Drogheda United: McCabe; Massey, Quinn, Hughes; Nugent, Deegan, Clarke, Weir; Markey, Grimes; Lyons.
Subs: Foley for Grimes, Poynton for Nugent (both 59), Williams for Lyons (72), Rooney for Weir (74).
Shelbourne: Webb; Ledwidge, Byrne, O'Driscoll; Wilson, Coyle, Dervin, Kane; Moylan, Hawkins; Carr.
Subs: Boyd for Carr (55), McEneff for Hawkins (68), McManus for Moylan (88).
Referee: Oliver Moran.