Cork City may have struck oil this week, but the well ran dry before the final whistle…
After two losses to start the season, Cork City welcomed champions Shamrock Rovers. The two Irish teams have epitomised success over the past twelve months, with City returning to the Premier Division and Rovers adding an Europa League qualification alongside another League title.
The tension was palpable well in advance of kick-off. With Colin Healy and Tadgh Purcell lacking match fitness and Shane Duggan suspended, manager Tommy Dunne deployed Ian Turner at right back using the dynamism of John Dunleavy in midfield to help protect the back four. Through the crisp night air, the players walked out to a wall of noise. Both sets of fans played their part for the RTÉ cameras through chants and banners.
Both sides had early chances. Gary Twigg failed to latch on to former Arsenal player Kerrea Gilbert’s ball over the top after beating the offside trap, while Vinny Sullivan almost slotted Davin O’Neill in. The Leesiders had hearts in mouths for a second when keeper Mark McNulty decided to control a back pass and dummy Gary Twigg. After two defeats in a row, the City players seemed to be airing on the side of caution, deciding on long balls out from the back instead of trying to work the ball up the field through short passing moves. In the first half, Twigg was reading the movement of former team-mate Dan Murrey better, darting away from the Cork skipper and finding space all too easily.
The first half ended in frantic end to end action, with chances falling to both sides. Davin O’Neill surged into the Rovers box but was unwilling to let fly with his left foot. Moments latter it was O’Neill connecting with an Ian Turner cross. Tottenham Hotspur loanie keeper, Ocar Jansson, was happy to tip the header wide. O’Neill was also body checked by Shamrock Rovers defender Craig Shives, but referee Neil Doyle was uninterested. Then facing away from goal, O’Neill nonchalantly flicked a deflected Daryl Horgan shot into the path of Shane O’Connor who sliced a volley across the face of goal and wide. Then Rovers had Gilbert miss at the back post from a Billy Dennehy cross that evaded the Cork rear guard.
The second half kicked off with Killian Brennan taking a more central role to dictate Rovers’ moves. McNulty was again giving Cork fans mild heart attacks, when he raced off his line to clear a ball, only to have Conor Powell miss his chip of the stranded keeper. Winger Daryl Horgan’s influence was growing. It was his run and cut back which led to Janssen having to save at the feet of Davin O’Neill. Billy Dennehy was enjoying the better of his contest with Ian Turner, but Cork manager Tommy Dunne was reluctant to switch Dunleavy onto the flying winger.
Then came a breakthrough from an unlikely source. Gavin Kavanagh burst from his central defensive role to dispossess Gary O’Neill. With the bulk of the 4,300 in attendance screaming “Shoot”, he did so, letting fly from 35 yards. Janssen dropped to his knees to save, but misread the flight of the ball.
The 78th minute brought about what should have been the final nail in the champions’ coffin. Conor Powell got his tackle on Gearoid Morrissey totally wrong, his studs catching the midfielder on the left foot. Morrissey was left in agony while Powell marched to the dressing rooms. Cork City did not make this advantage count. They sat far too deep and invited pressure from the Hoops, resulting in the inevitable. In the 94th, minute Twigg nodded in to send the Rovers’ bench wild, and the supporters onto the pitch in ecstacy. It took the stewards and Gardaí several minutes to get supporters back into the stand.
1-1 before the game would have been graciously accepted by all Cork players and supporters, but this felt like a loss. Positives can be taken by Tommy Dunne ahead of a trip to the Brandywell next Friday night to face Derry City – the Candystripes slipped up against Shelbourne recently. Further action occurred after the game, with the Gardaí busy dealing with some rogue away fans. In true Paddy’s Day style, alcohol and a frustrating outcome appeared the contributing factors.