Shamrock Rovers 3 Cork City 0
Another win, a Damien Duff debut and a result elsewhere that puts them notionally in the driving seat to take second place: this wasn't a bad night for Shamrock Rovers.
On the evidence of their display, they might retain hopes of doing even better and will certainly fancy their chances of leapfrogging a Cork City side whose title hopes have been more or less laid to rest during the past five days.
John Caulfield admitted as much afterwards: "If you were a betting man, you'd be paying out on Dundalk now. It's two from three for Europe."
Pat Fenlon wasn't so sure: "Anything's doable. We have to win the next game. It's as simple as that."
The appearance of Duff from the bench here was on the icing on the cake for the locals, with Fenlon saying “there wasn’t any plan to play him unless we were chasing it or comfortable and I didn’t expect to be so comfortable to be honest”.
The 36 year-old’s star turn came late, the 90th minute, but even with the game well won, it was worth the wait for the home fans.
The Dubliner packed a fair bit into his few minutes, producing a trick or two, a minor tirade when Gareth McCaffrey should have but didn’t give him the ball and then a trademark tumble to win a free on the edge of the area. It was, as always, pleasing on the eye and promised some good nights out to come once the former international is fully fit again.
His late appearance, though, had no real impact on a game Rovers won with surprising ease. A first-half goal from Gavin Brennan and second-half efforts from Danny North and Brandon Miele were enough to deliver the points. City had a couple of decent spells, but had no complaints by the end.
The two previous encounters this season between the sides had both been scoreless draws but with Dundalk disappearing over the title horizon and Rovers’ only route back to Europe looking to be under threat, the days when not losing could be spun by either manager as a satisfactory outcome were gone. It was time for somebody to shine.
City seemed as likely to do so as their hosts beforehand; since the two sides met at Turner’s Cross in May, they had taken 13 of 15 possible points on the road with the other two dropped at Oriel Park where getting a draw does actually have something to be said for it. But it was the hosts who started much more strongly and for the most part stayed on top.
It wasn’t all great but there was some real quality, such as in the lead-up to the opening Rovers’ goal. Blanchard helped to set it up with a cracking first touch before
crossed and Brennan rose high above three defenders to head beyond Mark McNulty.
Steven Beattie looked the most likely to haul City back into things but Rovers were simply too good and the pace with which they moved the ball for North's goal, a powerful close range header after 56 minutes, left City reeling ahead of what Caulfield says is their "biggest game of the season".
Shamrock Rovers: Murphy; Madden, Webster, Kenna, Byrne; Blanchard, McCabe; G Brennan, Drennan, Miele (Duff, 90 mins); North (McCaffrey, 84 mins)
Cork City: McNulty; Kavanagh (Healy, 78 mins), Bennett (D Dennehy, 61 mins), Murray, O'Connor; Miller, Buckley; Beattie, Gaynor (O'Connell, 61 mins), Sheppard; O'Sullivan.
Referee: T Connolly (Dublin).