First blood to Dundalk as they win President’s Cup on penalties

New ’keeper Abibi makes the key saves as Shamrock Rovers are beaten in Tallaght

Shamrock Rovers 1 Dundalk 1 (Dundalk win 4-3 on penalties)

Like almost everyone else, Irish football’s First fan had to stay away from the game held in his honour. He’d doubtless have enjoyed a lively contest that went all the way to penalties where it was ultimately decided when new Dundalk goalkeeper Alessio Abibi saved spot kicks from both Rory Gaffney and Roberto Lopes to ensure a 4-3 win.

The President might still have been better off where he was, though. Without a crowd the evening lacked the usual sense of occasion and there were moments when the weather felt as though it was making a case for an even later start to the new season.

The first meeting between these two sides last season was, of course, played a couple of weeks earlier but what with that crowd and those goals, it has come to be regarded as one of the truly great League of Ireland nights out among those lucky to have made it along.

Obviously enough, there was very little of the atmosphere here that had made that game so special but it had its attractions and produced at least one goal that will be remembered with Liam Scales reducing Raivis Jovskovskis to the role of onlooker as he pulled the ball one way then another before turning and planting in beyond Abibi and inside the far post.

In an eventful game that had already produced one good goal, it was the standout highlight. Having conceded that equaliser, the night got worse for last season’s cup winners, though, as Sonni Nattestad, having scored the opener with a header from six yards out, was sent off for a bad challenge on Graham Burke.

Just how bad it was would be hotly disputed in the moments that followed with Chris McCann, Chris Shields and Joey O’Brien all booked as a couple of scuffles broke out. Nattestad did a decent job of looking shocked when the card shown to him was a different colour but he had certainly left himself open to trouble with a two-footed challenge that involved at least some contact with the player while coming absolutely nowhere near the ball.

Rovers, generally the better side even in a first-half that had ended with them behind, dominated almost completely after the sending off. Scales had hit the underside of the crossbar in the first-half and Aaron Greene found the inside of the left hand post in the second. Without producing anything spectacular at that stage, Abibi did what he had to for the most part and the defence worked very hard throughout the closing stages to protect him.

By the end both managers could take some encouragement from their side’s display, however, with a few of the other new signings making a positive impact. It was no great surprise to see Sean Gannon hitting the ground running at right wing back for Rovers but Chris McCann brought a real presence to the deep lying midfield role where he showed a knack for finding space and an eye for a long range shot, one or two or which weren’t a long way off.

Early on, Jurkovskis had possibly been the best of the visitors to be playing at Tallaght for the first time with the Latvian showing plenty of drive when pushing forward, beyond defenders even if he failed to find his range with the crosses that followed.

Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Hoare, Lopes, O'Brien; Gannon, Finn (Watts, 77 mins), McCann, Scales; Burke, Gaffney, Mandroiu (Greene, 64 mins).

Dundalk: Abibi; Cleary, Boyle, Nattestad; Jurkovskis, Shields, Stanton, Leahy; Ogedi-Uzokwe (Dummigan, 82 mins), McMillan (Hoban, 58 mins), McEleney (Sloggett, 64 mins).

Referee: D MacGraith (Mayo).