Macdara Ferris reports from Tallaght Stadium
It was a case of job done for Shamrock Rovers as a solitary Dan Carr goal mid-way through the first half was enough to get the Hoops by Finn Harps in the first round of the FAI Cup on Friday night in Tallaght.
The Hoops dominated the game but couldn’t get a second goal to put the game out of reach of Harps and it made for a nervy closing ten minutes of the match as Ollie Horgan’s men pressed for an equaliser that they couldn’t quite secure.
This game was the first chance for Shamrock Rovers supporters to see the returning Graham Burke back in the green and white hoops. The question as to how Stephen Bradley would deploy his bountiful attacking options were answered come kick off as he went with Burke up top and Jack Byrne playing in behind him.
Ollie Horgan set out his team pretty much with a blanket defence to try and nullify the offensive threat of Rovers and his side really offered very little in the first half in particular.
They could well have been behind after just three minutes. Sean Kavanagh played a reverse pass to Dan Carr and his effort came to Ronan Finn who headed against the bar.
It was a very isolated Harps captain Raff Cretaro for much of the half but the lone striker did cause some Hoops hearts to flutter when his drilled effort on ten minutes just failed to hit the target. He went looking for a corner from referee Paul Tuite, who was a late replacement for Rob Rogers, but to no avail.
That was their best chance of the half but the Donegal men probably felt hard done by that they didn’t get a penalty after Josh Smith went down in the box under an Ethan Boyle challenge towards half time.
By then though they were 1-0 down. Carr grabbed his fifth of the season running onto a Jack Byrne-esque pass from Finn on 22 minutes. Carr took a great touch and rifled it home with his right foot with Mark McGinley rooted to the spot.
Bradley’s men should have taken more than a goal lead into the half time break. Finn had gone close with a shot that was unlucky to clip Burke, while the returning forward himself came close with a toe pocked left foot effort that he really should have finished.
In the second half Bradley switched it up withdrawing Boyle and moving Finn into right back. That allowed Burke to drop a bit deeper as substitute Aaron Greene went into the number nine role.
It was a pretty pedestrian pace for much of the second half as Rovers looked to poke holes in the packed Harps defence as the visitors seemed content to stay a goal behind so they could put some late pressure on.
The Hoops did need to get a couple of blocks in to clear a couple of Harps efforts from Cretaro and sub Harry Ashcroft but at the other end the chances were wracking up and McGinely was doing his bit to keep the visitors in the game.
Substitute Dylan Watts’ diving header had to be gathered by McGinley before he did well to kick away a Greene effort that the striker should have buried. He blazed over the bar with the goal at his mercy moments later before Byrne’s curling effort just went by the Harps goal.
There was a let off 12 minutes from time when Harps broke from deep. Finn and Kavanagh got in each others way allowing Cretaro to feed substitute Nathan Boyle who from a very tight angle got a shot away that Alan Mannus did well to turn onto the post.
It sparked Harps into the life and they upped the tempo in the concluding minutes. The home crowd got a bit restless as their team dropped deeper and deeper. However, the Hoops held firm, secured their clean sheet and now go into the second round draw which takes place next Monday.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Ethan Boyle (Aaron Greene h/t), Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Sean Kavanagh; Gary O’Neill, Aaron McEneff; Jack Byrne; Ronan Finn ©; Graham Burke (Dylan Watts 65), Daniel Carr (Graham Cummins 84).
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Sean Callan, Greg Bolger, Thomas Oluwa.
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Mark Russell, Sam Todd, Josh Smith, Daniel O’Reilly, Colm Deasy; Harry Ascroft, Ruairi Harkin (Tony McNamee 80), Gareth Harkin; Mark Timlin (Nathan Boyle 69); Raff Cretaro © (Mikey Place 80).
Subs not used: Peter Burke (gk), Jacob Borg, Liam Walsh, Shaun Doherty.
Referee: Paul Tuite.
Attendance: 1,372 (estimate)
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Gary O’Neill (Shamrock Rovers).