Jake Mulraney denies Shamrock Rovers as Saints march out of Tallaght with a point

Jack Byrne’s spectacular goal had looked like earning the champions a first win of the season

Shamrock Rovers 2 St Patrick’s Athletic 2

Shamrock Rovers versus St Patrick’s Athletic on March 17th is a global marketing dream that should happen every year without fail. Jack Byrne might even guarantee another spectacular effort from 25 yards if RTÉ agree to broadcast The Luas Derby (red line of course).

Byrne’s brilliance was only half the story as St Pat’s responded with a late equaliser by Jake Mulraney to heap further misery on the champions.

Byrne appeared to settle a flowing tie, turning on a sixpence to cut a wonderful effort beyond visiting goalkeeper Dean Lyness in the 54th minute. The finish sparked unbridled joy and complete silence either end of a Tallaght Stadium packed by 7,674 captivated souls.

The Inchicore club’s fans were the only ones singing at the end. “In your head, in your head, in your head,” they bellowed.


Inexplicably, Rovers manager Stephen Bradley is still seeking a win after six matches but this result will be blamed on his decision making. Bradley went against the club’s usual instincts by replacing three attacking players with defenders when leading 2-1. Mulraney made them pay.

The problem with Rovers at the moment is difficult to define. Before this Paddy’s Day affair, the champions and expected title contenders both sat in relegation trouble, just above UCD, sharing one win, five draws and four defeats. The dial had barely moved at full-time.

The way St Pat’s can change-up during games reenforces the widely held belief that Tim Clancy is a very good coach, but the young manager needs to bank nine points – against UCD, Cork City and Drogheda United – before Bohemians welcome them to Dalymount Park on April 14th. Not a crisis yet, but it’s getting there. This point will help no end.

Rovers are a curate’s egg. Bradley has legitimately referenced stuffy officiating but an awful start to their quest to win a fourth successive league title appears to be a mental blockage. Byrne can lead them out of the malaise as they are piecing together some scintillating football.

Take Richie Towell’s early goal. Rory Gaffney, operating in a deep-lying role, leaving Ireland under-21 Johnny Kenny up front alone, curved a low ball into Towell, which allowed the midfielder steady himself before shooting past Lyness.

St Pat’s should have levelled matters in seconds but Vladislav Kreida failed to beat Alan Mannus from point-blank range. Clancy’s tactics also gift Rovers’ future European opponents a high-pressing blueprint as they continually struggled to build from the back.

Maybe there is a hex on repeating the four in a row, last done by Jim McLaughlin’s invincibles in the 1980s, as bizarre calls have gone against them with referee Damien MacGraith starting as he meant to go on. Tip-off was retaken after the finicky official spotted a Rovers toe crossing the halfway line.

The champions were understandably livid with the penalty call after 40 minutes. Towell even earned himself a yellow card for protesting MacGraith’s decision to reward what looked like a clever act of centre forward play by Eoin Doyle.

Seán Hoare was fingered as the guilty party but contact with Doyle was minimal. The veteran striker buried the spot kick into the bottom corner of Mannus’s net.

All square at turn felt fair and proper as St Pat’s had carved out three clear chances – Doyle blazed the first over after Noah Lewis shuffled down the end line; Kreida should have done better on 21 minutes, barely forcing a save from Mannus and Joe Redmond headed across goal and wide from a smart free-kick by the Estonian.

Rovers’ quality eventually began to tell. Trevor Clarke was dangerous down the left and he almost poked them ahead early in the second half.

The entire League of Ireland needed reminding of Byrne’s class. Most of last season was sullied by muscle issues but the Irish international did what few players earning a living on this island can. His belter tore open the contest.

Just what Rovers wanted, right?

Wrong. From the hour mark, Bradley went about securing three points by replacing Kenny, Clarke and Gaffney with defenders Seán Kavanagh, Lee Grace and Seán Gannon. The conservative approach backfired when Mulraney curled a beauty past Mannus with two mintues left on the clock.

That was only the start of the drama. Rovers piled forward, Byrne and Hoare drawing brilliant saves from Lyness in between a Clancy red card for kicking an innocent water bottle. His side’s well-earned point should cool him down but the nightmare continues for Rovers. Next up, Dundalk away.

Shamrock Rovers

Mannus; Cleary, Lopes, Hoare; Farrugia, O’Neill, Towell, Byrne, Clarke (Kavanagh, 62); Gaffney (Gannon, 84); Kenny (Grace, 73).

St Patrick’s Athletic

Lyness; Curtis, Lewis, Redmond, McGrath, Breslin; Timmermans, Kreida, Forrester (McCormack, 87); Carty (Mulraney, 66), Doyle (Lonergan, 66).

Referee: Damien MacGraith.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent