(Credit: Jason O'Callaghan)
Shamrock Rovers put their patchy league form behind them to lift the Setanta Sports Cup for the second time and secure their first piece of silverware under Trevor Croly with a dominant 7-1 victory over Drogheda United at Tallaght Stadium.
Two goals in as many minutes from James Chambers and Sean O’Connor put the Hoops in the driving seat before Karl Sheppard struck just before the interval to end any hopes of a dramatic United comeback.
The procession continued after the break as Ronan Finn bagged a brace while a Billy Dennehy double completed the rout after Gary O’Neill had pulled one back for the County Louth club.
Both sides have endured a somewhat underwhelming first third of the season and Saturday’s all-Ireland final provided them with the opportunity to ignite their respective campaigns but it was Rovers who set the tone in the early exchanges.
As well as battling the horrendous conditions of sleet, rain and gale force winds, Mick Cooke’s side had to weather a Shamrock Rovers onslaught from the first whistle. Pat Sullivan’s low effort forced Gabriel Sava into an early save before the hosts hit the front in slightly fortuitous circumstances.
Drogheda failed to fully clear Sean O’Connor’s initial corner and when the winger fired in another cross from the left, the ball struck the back of Chambers’ head before looping into the far corner despite the best efforts of Sava.
The Hoops fans had hardly finished celebrating the opening goal of the game before their side doubled their lead and stamped their authority. Shane Grimes failed to deal with a deep cross after it was held up in the wind and O’Connor took full advantage by firing past Sava from a tight angle.
With both teams sitting on sixteen points in the league, and having cancelled each other out in their earlier meeting this season, everything pointed to Saturday's match being an extremely tight encounter. However, Drogheda simply couldn’t deal with Rovers’ blistering start and found themselves chasing shadows.
Gabriel Sava was forced to make an acrobatic save from Chambers’ powerful header before the Italian denied Sheppard with a smart stop.
Just as when it seemed the two time winners were getting themselves back into the contest, Trevor Croly’s side landed the killer blow minutes before the half-time break. Finn’s perfectly weighted through ball found Sheppard in acres of space before the striker clinically finished past Sava.
With their manager’s harsh words no doubt still ringing in their ears, the Boynesiders attempted to ignite an unlikely comeback but Rovers’ rear-guard held firm before the game was put well and truly out of United’s grasp.
Ronan Finn showed why he is so highly rated with two minutes of real quality. Firstly, his long-range strike gave Sava no chance and then he waltzed around Alan Byrne in the Drogs defence and coolly slotted it into the far corner.
Mick Cooke rang the changes and saw his side pull one back through Gary O’Neill moments after David Cassidy struck the crossbar but that wasn’t the end of the goals as Billy Dennehy completed the demolition with goals on seventy-four and ninety minutes.
If Shamrock Rovers are to forge their way back into the title race they will need a miraculous recovery over the coming months but this performance could well be the spark they need to ignite a run of results to close the gap between themselves and the summit.
Meanwhile, it was an afternoon to forget for Mick Cooke’s side and they’ll need to quickly erase it from their memory if they are to have a strong second half to the year.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Pat Sullivan, Derek Foran, Jason McGuinness, Daniel Ledwith; Sean O’Connor (Ciaran Kilduff 71), Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice, James Chambers, Billy Dennehy; Karl Sheppard (Mark Quigley 60 (Gary McCabe 77)).
Subs not used: Richard Brush, David Elebert, Conor McCormack, Shane Robinson
Booked: Rice (10)
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Shane Grimes, Derek Prendergast, Brian Gannon (Alan McNally 72), Alan Byrne; Graham Rusk (Declan O’Brien 60), Ryan Brennan, Michael Daly (Paul O’Conor 60), David Cassidy, Gavin Brennan; Gary O'Neill.
Subs not used: Michael Schlingermann, Philip Hand, Cathal Brady, Stephen Quigley.
Booked: Daly (9), Cassidy (21), G Brennan (31), Prendergast (40), R Brennan (82).
Referee: Rob Rogers
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Ronan Finn (Shamrock Rovers).
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