Friday night lights were back again in Inchicore as a battling St Patrick’s Athletic overcame last season’s second-placed side Cork City in a tight game at a packed Richmond Park.
Mikey Drennan’s penalty on the half-hour mark was enough for new manager Harry Kenny’s side to seal all three points in front of a 3,497 strong crowd.
The long and sometimes excruciating wait for a return to action was evident in the intensity of the first half at Richmond Park.
Players from both sides weren’t shy about throwing themselves into tackles with Pats Conor Clifford picking up the first yellow of the game for a heavy challenge on Kevin O’Connor.
Clifford was perhaps a little lucky that the card wasn’t a different colour, which would have seen his first game of the season cut very short.
Cork looked the more likely to score in the opening 20 minutes, with Daire O’Connor having a lot of joy on the right wing.
O’Connor’s mazy runs led to ex-Pats and Cork boss Pat Dolan turning around to the press box describing him as ‘The Irish Messi.’
Chances started to come for Cork with James Tilley heading just wide of Brendan Clarke’s goal from an O’Connor cross.
Clarke had to be on his toes twice in quick succession a few moments later as he a made a point-blank block and an amazing acrobatic save.
It was the latter goal-saving stop that stood out as he denied a great header from Garry Buckley, who was certain he had opened the scoring.
Pats began to find their feet in the game with Rhys McCabe and Conor Clifford beginning to put their mark on proceedings with patient play.
On the half hour mark, Clifford’s quick movement in the box forced a foul from Seán McLoughlin and a chance for his team to go ahead from the penalty spot.
Drennan continued his good pre-season form, sending McNulty in the Cork goal the wrong way, and the Richmond Park faithful showed their appreciation for their new striker’s first league goal.
The start of the second half set the tone for the rest of the game as the action became scrappy and stop-start.
Cork carved out a few half chances with Daire O’Connor coming close and maybe feeling he should have done better with a snap shot in the Pats box.
John Caulfield knew he had to go for it and brought on Graham Cummins to partner Sheppard, who was cutting a lonely figure up top.
Cork put the pressure on St Patrick’s Athletic, who were now being sucked into their own half, but it was the Inchicore side who came closest to adding a second and winning goal.
Great counter attacking football allowed Simon Madden march forward and unleash a shot on the stretching McNulty who done well to reach the stinging shot and push it away for a corner.
Added time of 6 minutes was met with understandable anxiety and confusion from the stands with Cork firing balls into the St Pats box.
Mark McNulty moved a free kick up a few inches to gain an advantage but his kick was met by the head of the towering Kevin Toner and then the less-towering Rhys McCabe.
Gary Shaw put his body on the line to make two great tackles as Cork were on the attack which made for a great reaction from the home support.
Former Chelsea and Dundalk man, Clifford, summed up the work rate of himself and his teammates on the night as he emptied the tank in the 97th minute to chase down McNulty and keep the frustrated Cork keeper in the corner near the travelling supporters.
It was these fans who will make the long journey home without a point in the opening game of this 2019 season as the final whistle was greeted with disappointment from that end and a sigh of relief from the other.
St Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Simon Madden, David Webster, Kevin Toner, Ian Bermingham (Cian Coleman 97); Lee Desmond, Jamie Lennon, Conor Clifford, Rhys McCabe, Chris Forrester (Gary Shaw, 65); Mikey Drennan (Brandon Miele 78).
Subs not used: Barry Murphy (gk), Ciaran Kelly, Darragh Markey, James Doona.
Booked: Conor Clifford (15), Jamie Lennon (23), Kevin Toner (53), Rhys McCabe (90+).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Conor McCarthy, Dan Casey, Sean MacLoughlin, Shane Griffin, Conor McCormack (Liam Nash 76), Garry Buckley, Kevin O’Connor (Garry Comerford 72), Daire O’Connor, James Tilley (Graham Cummins 64), Karl Sheppard.
Subs not used: Tadgh Ryan (gk), Colm Horgan, Alan Bennett, Darragh Rainsford.
Booked: Conor McCormack (48).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Attendance: 3,497 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Jamie Lennon (St Patrick’s Athletic).