Irish football fans have waited with painful anticipation for the new season to begin and in typical fashion the Airtricity League returned with plenty of penalties, late drama, a red card and no draws in an exciting opening night.
Shamrock Rovers began their quest to retain the league title with a 3-1 victory over the visiting Dundalk. The first half was a nervy affair for the Hoops, who were put under the cosh by a hard pressing Dundalk side.
After 17 minutes, a delightful long pass from Dundalk debutant Jason Byrne sent Daniel Kearns down the wing, before the ball made it’s way to Simon Madden in the box who couldn’t beat Alan Mannus in the Rovers goal from eight yards out. Both Mark Quigley and Ross Gaynor missed with headed chances in the Rovers box, with Quigley’s effort coming from just six yards out following a lovely flick from Byrne.
Dundalk’s dominance came to an abrupt half on the 23 minute mark, when Dundalk ‘keeper Peter Cherrie fluffed a clearance which sent Gary O’Neill through on goal. Cherrie immediately brought down O’Neill and was dismissed for his foul.
The Hoops began to come into the game following the red card, although a tenacious Dundalk side ensured they were never comfortable for the remainder of the first half. Indeed it was the visitors who took the lead on the 44th minute when Dan Murray fouled the least popular man in Tallaght, ex-Bohs striker Jason Byrne, and the referee correctly awarded Dundalk a penalty. Byrne dispatched the penalty beyond Alan Mannus as Dundalk looked set to go back to the dressing room 1-0 up.
However the goal only served to wake Rovers up, and in the 2nd minute of first half added time former Sligo player Gary McCabe smashed a low shot towards goal from outside the box, which substitute ‘keeper Paul Murphy could only tip against the post and into the back of the Dunalk net.
Five minutes after the second half started Rovers striker Gary Twigg pounced on a poor header from Colin Hawkins and headed into the net to put Rovers ahead. Twigg could only wait another five minutes before he extended Rovers’ lead to two, as he collected a pass from Gary O’Neill and arrowed the ball into the top corner when one-on-one with Paul Murphy.
Twigg had numerous chances to complete his hat-trick and would’ve if not for defender Simon Madden’s two goal-line clearances. In the end, Dundalk will have been relatively happy to restrict the final score to 3-1 as Rovers showed why there are considered favourites to win another league title.
A much changed Bohemians side impressed as they recovered from going a goal down to record a 3-1 victory away to Bray Wanderers.
The Wicklow men took the lead after 20 minutes when Bohs defender Ger O’Brien handled in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Midfielder Jake Kelly gave the ‘keeper no chance as he sent his penalty into the top corner.
Bray’s lead lasted all of eleven minutes as Bohs were awarded a penalty of their own. Striker Christy Fagan held his nerve to find the back of the net from 12 yards out.
Killian Brennan re-signed for Bohs over the pre-season, and how happy manager Pat Fenlon must be that he did as he watched Brennan score a scorching 25-yard free-kick after 39 minutes to send his team in 2-1 up at the break.
Wonderful link-up play from Christy Fagan and Stephen Traynor sent striker Anto Flood through on the left. Flood kept his composure and slotted home into the bottom corner to give Bohs a two-goal cushion.
Bray could have made a game of it with 20 minutes remaining when they won a penalty. Again Jake Kelly stepped up to take it and again he beat the keeper, only for his shot to cannon off the crossbar and fall to safety. Bray seemed dejected and despite their best efforts they couldn’t stop Bohs professionally seeing out the rest of the game.
Prodigal sons Aaron Greene and Raff Cretaro marked their return to Sligo Rovers by combining to score a dramatic late goal to earn an away win over newly promoted Derry City.
Sligo, last season’s third placed side, survived a Derry City penalty after 40 minutes, which was missed by former Sporting Fingal striker Eamon Zayed. ‘Keeper Brendan Clarke saved Zayed’s original effort but could only look on as the rebound fell to the striker, who managed to miss again.
In the second half, Sligo brought Aaron Greene and Raff Cretaro on from the bench and with just two minutes to go it was Greene who got on the end of Cretaro’s cross to ensure the away fans had a splendid trip back to Sligo, while Derry’s return to the top flight was spoiled.
St. Patrick’s Athletic started last season brilliantly and will be looking to do the same this year as they travelled west to play Galway United. The 3-0 scoreline flattered Pats who couldn’t open the deadlock in the first half. However the Dublin side came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half and were two up inside four minutes, with Anto Murphy and Evan McMillan scoring. They added a third in the final minute through Derek Pender.
In the final game of the opening night Drogheda United had a miserable start to the season, losing 1-0 at home to UCD. Cillian Morrison bundled a cross into the net on the 80th minute to secure the three points for the Students.
Friday, March 11th
UCD v Derry City
St. Patrick’s Athletic v Bray Wanderers
Dundalk v Galway United
Bohemians v Drogheda United
Saturday, March 12th
Sligo Rovers v Shamrock Rovers