A freak Gavin Kavanagh strike in the 62nd minute looked to have earned Cork City a fantastic three points against Shamrock Rovers at a noisy Turner’s Cross on Friday night only for Gary Twigg’s 94th minute equaliser to give Stephen Kenny’s side an unlikely point.
Central defender Kavanagh struck from 35 yards and the ball took a freak bounce en route to goal, catching out Rovers keeper Oscar Jansson, to give City the lead, but there was late drama as Twigg added the final touch after Ken Oman headed goalwards from a Billy Dennehy corner deep into injury time to knick a draw.
Cork were so much better in the second period of this outing compared to the 225 minutes of football which had preceded them this season and, in all honesty, they deserved to win here based on their second half showing alone. The draw was such a cruel blow, but, as cliched as it might sound, it was the stuff of champions from the Hoops to steal a point when they were far from their best.
Up against an unchanged Rovers side, John Dunleavy’s move to the centre of midfield in place of the suspended Shane Duggan worked brilliantly for the Leesiders, the Donegal man adding to his rising stock after a very promising start to life in Cork.
In addition to this, Daryl Horgan was outstanding on the right wing before switching to the left with 20 minutes to go when Colin Healy replaced a flat Shane O’Connor and his runs forward constantly gave the Hoops rearguard plenty to worry about.
Rovers, meanwhile, were disappointing for long spells regardless of having plenty of possession. Despite coming from behind in their opening two games to earn maximum points, there was a distinct lack of imagination in their attacking play, though Kenny will no doubt be delighted to see his team come from behind to earn a result once again. Killian Brennan and Billy Dennehy enjoyed plenty of the ball but never really did much to threaten an improved Cork rearguard – up until Twigg’s last gasp leveller, of course.
In a dull first 45, it was the champions that threatened first when a slip by Kavanagh allowed Gary O’Neill to shoot straight at Mark McNulty, but within seconds City created their first chance as Vinny Sullivan’s punt was deflected out for a corner by Conor Powell.
Rovers looked a lot more composed on the ball in the opening 15 minutes though, and the best of the action was to be seen in the Cork half. Ken Oman headed a Dennehy corner wide on 14 minutes, with Brennan blasting a free-kick wide 60 seconds later.
Too often, City struggled to keep hold of possession in the opening half hour. Almost every time they won the ball in defence, the home team gave it away, a lack of composure resulting in the ball being driven carelessly up field. Mark McNulty, however, didn’t have much to do and a decent 10 minute territorial siege from Rovers ended without a lead goal.
Still, Oscar Jansson in the Rovers goal had even less to deal with, a header back from Oman his only touch during the middle third of the opening period. The game became completely disjointed nearing the interval and with little space opening up, there wasn’t much worth noting. Rovers held a larger share of possession but didn’t really do much with it.
There was to be one moment of interest before the break though after a mix up in the Rovers backline. Craig Sives almost headed into his own net after being put underplenty of pressure from Davin O’Neill and the same two tangled inside the area 30 seconds later but referee Neil Doyle waved play on despite justifiable claims for a penalty.
A transformed side, Cork were the dominant team in the second period and they had a glorious chance on 55 minutes through Horgan. Shane O’Connor played to O’Neill and he turned before laying off to the Galway born winger, who unleashed a low shot towards goal but Jansson was quick of his line to block.
The opener however, came from the most unlikely of sources. Kavanagh made a fantastic interception and with little opening up in front of him, he decided to take a pop. Jansson looked like making an easy stop but the ball took a freak bounce and the change of trajectory deceived him, sending the home support into delirium.
Kenny used all his substitutes in an attempt to freshen things up for the away team but he was dealt a massive blow with 11 minutes to go when Conor Powell was given his marching orders. A mistimed challenge on Morrissey saw Doyle produce his red card and while there was contact, there was certainly no malicious intent in the challenge.
A poor punch clear from McNulty almost allowed Rovers to level on 82, however Chris Turner’s volley towards the gaping net wasn’t on target. There was still an edge of the seat final 10 minutes to come though, Rovers pushing forward, with Cork living dangerously by retreating backwards.
Former City player Dennehy had a chance to steal a point when Twigg played him in, but the Hoops star drilled his effort across goal and mere inches wide. Nonetheless, there was still time for Twigg to steal a point when Dennehy's corner from the right came in and Oman headed towards Twigg who had the final say.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Ian Turner, Gavin Kavanagh, Dan Murray, Danny Murphy; Daryl Horgan, John Dunleavy, Gearóid Morrissey, Shane O’Connor (Colin Healy 69); Davin O’Neill (Tadhg Purcell 76), Vinny Sullivan.
Subs not used: Kevin Burns, John Kavanagh, Jamie Murphy, Cathal Lordan, Kalen Spillane.
Booked: Danny Murphy.
Shamrock Rovers: Oscar Jansson; Kerrea Gilbert, Craig Sives, Ken Oman, Conor Powell; Billy Dennehy, Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice (Chris Turner 77), Killian Brennan (Daryl Kavanagh 73); Gary Twigg, Gary O’Neill (Aaron Greene 60).
Subs not used: Lee Steacy, Graham Gartland, Conor McCormack, Sean Gannon.
Booked: Ken Oman, Gary Twigg.
Sent off: Conor Powell.
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Official attendance: 4,324.
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Daryl Horgan.
Alan Smith works as a sub-editor for the Guardian newspaper in London. Originally from Cork, he freelances for several other newspapers and websites. Follow him on twitter @alansmith90.