Shamrock Rovers 0 Cork City 5
In the match programme’s A-Z of the Shamrock Rovers season “C” predictably enough, stood for “Cup” or “our Cup” as they still like to refer to it out in Tallaght. “We’re sorry Cork but this year we want our Cup back,” the entry read, “twenty nine years is too long a wait.” That must have given the travelling City fans a laugh if they stumbled upon it at half-time.
By then, this latest attempt by the “cup specialists” to win the trophy for a 25th time had been comprehensively laid to rest and they were on their way to their worst ever defeat in the competition as well their worst of any sort in Tallaght.
City had scored their opener while, it seemed, the crowd were still settling into their seats with Seán Maguire firing home neatly from a narrow angle and they had another two before with the break courtesy of Garry Buckley and Karl Sheppard.
Inevitably, Stephen Bradley sought to change things for the second half but before there was any opportunity for his substitution or altered shape to generate an improvement, the hosts were four down with Maguire scoring 50 odd seconds in before completing his hat-trick in the 50 minute to make it 5-0.
Maguire was returning from international duty having scored in both of Ireland's recent Under-21 qualifiers but Bradley could top that, in his way, and did so by throwing on Aaron Bolger, a 16-year-old who had played on both Tuesday and Thursday for the Irish Under-17s. It was, in short, remarkable stuff.
The fans, to their credit, never turned on their young team, preferring instead to amuse themselves by abusing, in song, the FAI, then Cork City and while they reacted at one stage to a jibe from the visiting supporters that their team was “s**t” by agreeing, there was a impressively good natured tone to it all from supporters whose heads must be spinning by the speed at which their expectations have been lowering.
Matters will not have been helped on this occasion by the fact that the game was live on television but an increasing number seem to have settled for staying at home. Certainly there were far fewer here to witness this than there would have been a few seasons ago with one of the ground’s two stands almost empty for a cup quarter-final, something that seemed extraordinary before the goals started flying in.
The club’s new emphasis on youth development is to be admired but it is hard to imagine that the need to expect nights like this was part of the sales pitch from those who have been championed the change of direction. On the evidence of this, they should probably expect it a good deal more; starting next week when they must head to Turner’s Cross for a league game.
Bradley will do well to pick his players up between now and then for here the team looked collectively out of its depth. That said, some of the younger players did well enough in the circumstances but with Gary Shaw and Brandon Miele out injured the few senior professionals present, primarily Gary McCabe, Stephen McPhail and Simon Madden didn't have remotely close to enough about them to hold the show together.
None of which should entirely take away from the fact that Cork were, once again, very good. The five goals scored here made it 18 in four games (Maguire’s personal haul just now is seven in four) following a spell in which their apparent inability to convert their chances cost them points which might yet prove vital in the league.
There actually might have been more here as they pretty much ran the show in every department, out-muscling the home side in the critically important early exchanges, then sweeping around and through it when they broke until the game was won and, eventually, they eased up and just settled for seeing out what remained of it.
For a while, it was entertaining because Rovers had clearly come believing they could make a contest of it but as their inability to make a real impact up front or defend effectively at the back became apparent, there was little in it for the neutrals.
In that programme article, by the way “O” was down as “on loan”. It also stands for “out”, of course, which Rovers are. Maybe it will be a case of 30th time lucky but however much talent they possess, the homegrown players would have an awful lot of growing to do for this most painful of cup runs to end any time soon.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Murphy; Heaney (K Brennan, 60 mins), Cornwall, Webster; Madden, Cregg, McPhail (Bolger, 71 mins), Clarke; McCabe; Boyd, Dobbs (Clarke half-time).
CORK CITY: McNulty; Beattie McSweeney, 63 mins), Bennett, Browne, O'Connor; Bolger (Healy, 51 mins); Sheppard, G Morrissey, Buckley (Holohan, 51 mins), Dooley; Maguire.
Referee: P McLaughlin (Donegal).