St Patrick’s Athletic 2 Shamrock Rovers 1
For Shamrock Rovers, the “cup specialists” tag must feel like a cruel jibe on nights like this. It had been 28 seasons without success as they embarked last night on their latest attempt to win the competition for the 25th time. It will be 29 by the time they launch next year’s campaign which, they’ll hope, will last a little bit longer.
Unbeaten in the league and with a draw and win to show for their two encounters with a supposedly out of sorts St Patrick’s Athletic, they must have fancied their chances of at least taking this tie back to Tallaght.
Instead they fell behind to goals from Conan Byrne and Jason McGuinness a little more than half an hour in and though they never gave up the chase, they never quite looked like saving themselves.
Gary McCabe did pull one back six minutes from time when the second-half substitute earned himself a free kick at the expense of Lee Desmond then sent the ball sweetly to the top far corner.
The visitors deserved the goal for the effort they’d put in as they desperately sought to avoid an early exit at the hands of the holders, but another probably would have flattered them given how few clear cut chances they managed to carve out.
The hosts were repeatedly reduced to hoofing the ball away during the frantic closing exchanges but on a couple of occasions during the long second-half stretch in which they were under pressure but led by two, they came very close to catching their opponents on the break with Craig Hyland forced into one wonderful save from Aaron Greene after he and Jamie McGrath has linked up well.
Overall, it was an impressive win for a side that had lost twice without scoring since Rovers were last were here a couple of weeks back. Liam Buckley had acknowledged readily enough after the defeat by Dundalk that most of what there was left to play for his side this season would be on the line here.
There was, he had suggested, a great deal of work to be done on the training ground and his players had clearly put in the required shifts but what was more remarkable really was the confidence with which they set about their opponents through the opening half.
Rovers arrived having conceded twice on the road in seven league games, a tally that had been matched here within 37 minutes. Things might have been different had Michael Drennan capitalised on the sort of early defending that got St Patrick's into so much trouble against the league leaders last week or if the locals had kept defending like that but neither did.
The young striker drifted too far onto his weaker right foot after latching onto a wayward back pass by McGuinness and rounding Brendan Clarke to get a proper shot in and the big centre half got to grips with things pretty well as his side took control of the tie.
It was good, open stuff with just the hint of niggle that can be expected from derby games between these two sides. St Patrick's, though, gradually started to take the upper hand with Gavin Brennan having to make a terrific intervention to prevent Ian Bermingham capitalising on an Aaron Greene cross after a quarter of an hour and Hyland doing well to deny Seán Hoare from the resulting corner by Byrne.
He scored the first goal a little while later when persistent pressure by the Inchicore outfit prompted a mistake by Patrick Cregg. Short of options, the 29-year-old attempted a cross-field pass that Byrne anticipated and the midfielder then coolly teed his shot up before curling the ball beyond Hyland and into the bottom right corner.
Within five minutes it was 2-0 with Byrne, back on set piece duty, delivering a corner that McGuinness turned goalwards. Hyland should have saved but he allowed the header to slip through his hands and the celebrations had started almost before the ball had crept over the line.
His late stop might have provided some consolation for the goalkeeper who has generally done well since coming in for Rovers this season but for there was no way back for the team or their fans who must dream for yet another year about their next cup glory.
ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC: Clarke; Desmond, Hoare, McGuinness, Bermingham; Chambers, Brennan; Byrne, (Langley, 78 mins), Greene, Forrester (McCormaanck, 81 mins); Fagan (McGrath, 53 mins).
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Hyland; Madden, Kenna, Blanchard, Byrne; Cregg, Fahey (McCabe, 65 mins); G Brennan, R Brennan (McPhail, half-time), Miele (Waters, half-time); Drennan.
Referee: P McLaughlin (Monaghan).