Shelbourne 0 Shamrock Rovers 0
Sell-out at Tolka Park, a point shared, but so much is happening beneath the surface. If not for St Patrick’s Athletic’s unravelling at home to Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers would be in the relegation zone.
The Tallaght club lie eighth in the table with zero wins, four draws and a defeat. It’s only March, but Rovers cannot buy a victory.
Last time Shelbourne beat them at Tolka was 2004. Jason Byrne – who else? – scored the only goal that day. The wait goes on, but this one will feel like a point earned as much as Rovers know they have dropped another two.
Shook champions against Duffer’s System as Rovers’ struggles to reclaim the sacred four-in-a-row of league titles faded further into the distance – yes, it is only March – against a disciplined, industrious Shels.
No hype needed for the 184th Ringsend derby. Damien Duff against Stephen Bradley. Sustained investment against a club with potential investors from Hull City via a Turkish media mogul reportedly circling north Dublin.
Despite all the usual excitement ahead of this old rivalry, the talk around Drumcondra was dominated by which “Tory scab” would fill Gary Lineker’s boots on Match of the Day (the answer came by full-time: nobody). Twitter was aflame as Ian Wright led a domino effect of “solidarity” with the suspended anchorman.
As football wrestled politics across the water, Rovers and Shels got stuck into each other in Dublin 9. Daniel Cleary swallowed the first yellow card for coming through the back of Jack Moylan. Moments earlier, Jack Byrne’s low pass gave Neil Farrugia a glimpse of Conor Kearns goal as Rovers muscled into their hosts.
Rory Gaffney almost clipped his second goal of the season, having spied Kearns miles off his line, but the effort sailed wide and the more this remained a stalemate, the more Rovers abysmal start to the season stayed relevant.
The champions owned 70 per cent of possession entering first-half injury-time but it brought to mind the now iconic, 2.17am UCD tweet after snatching a point in Dundalk last month. “I had my sandwich when I Ieft the house,” began UCD’s official account. “I had my sandwich when I arrived at the park. I had my sandwich when I arrived on the bench and took my first bite. A seagull ate half my sandwich. But it’s okay, because regardless of the result, I had more possession of the sandwich.”
The Shelbourne seagulls kept following the Rovers trawler.
Come the interval only one goal was scored across five premier division ties; Jonathan Afolabi putting Bohemians 1-0 up against St Pat’s at Richmond Park to paint a bizarre league table after four and half games, with Bohs a point clear of Derry City at the top while Rovers and UCD were the only winless sides. It made as much sense as BBC’s own goal an hour earlier.
Bohs are still top after tonight’s matches.
Nothing has settled, including the 2022 player of the year. Gaffney’s tame header, from Byrne’s on-the-run cross, completed a hat-trick of misses as Rovers battered at Shels door.
Duff has this young squad running until they drop but, equally, every player seeks to play through the lines. “I want loads of kids in, they don’t answer back,” he said recently when asked about the north Dubliners’ inability to attract the quality of player Rovers possess in abundance.
Moylan could end up a Rovers player if he keeps up this level of performance. As the 21 year old departed, jaded with eight minutes remaining, Bradley told teenage striker Johnny Kenny to warm-up.
To finish scoreless despite Kenny, Gaffney, Farrugia and Liam Burt being supplied by Byrne, and Graham Byrne indicates a collective malaise at the Tallaght club.
“Outstanding, f**king outstanding!” roared Duff in injury-time as Shels earned a late, late corner.
The ball fell to Tyreke Wilson outside the box, the wing back steadied himself before curling the ball into Mannus’ hands. A point shared, but so much is happening beneath the surface.
Shelbourne: Kearns; JR Wilson, Molloy, Byrne, Barrett (Ledwidge ht), T Wilson; Caffrey, Lunney (McManus 55), Moylan (Robinson 82), Smith (Leavy 55); Farrell.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Hoare, Lopes, Cleary (Grace ht); Kavanagh (Clarke 77), O’Neill, Towell (Kenny 84); Farrugia, Byrne, Burke (Burt 88); Gaffney.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin