All-Island Cup Report: Crusaders 2 - 2 Shamrock Rovers

Hoops Head Coach Collie O'Neill

Hoops Head Coach Collie O'Neill Credit: Eddie Lennon (ETPhotos)

Shamrock Rovers are through to the knockout stages of the Avenir Sports All Island Cup following a strong performance in which skipper Aine O’Gorman bagged a brace away to Crusaders Strikers.

The Hoops made two changes to their starting eleven from last weekend's league defeat at Turner's Cross, Summer Lawless replacing Amanda Budden between the sticks with Joy Ralph starting in favour of Aoife Kelly.

The sides lined out under a blaze of white at the Seaview stadium to the soundtrack of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’ - Rovers decked in teal while Crusaders donned black and gold.

Much has been talked about The Hoops disappointing league campaign to date and Collie O’Neills side were zoned in from the tip-off, opening the scoreline in the 7th minute.

Lia O’Leary proved to be as evasive as her sun cast shadow, the pacy winger shading the Crusaders number 3 and firing the ball across goal.

Ralph did well to muscle Beth Chalmers out of the equation and tee up her captain for the strike, Aine O’Gorman placing the ball into the top corner with the help of a wicked deflection that deceived Maddy Harvey-Clifford.

Crusaders struggled to keep pace with Rover's sweeping passages of play and were blinded by flashes of red on the right flank as Katie O’Reilly burned past Darcy Boyle and Abigail Redmond.

Yet the Dublin 24 outfit were unable to take advantage of this aggressive spell and were left to rue their missed opportunities when Crusaders Emily Reid showed dexterity to win the ball in midfield.

Boyle threaded it through to Darcie McNeill who left untracked, dinked the ball with her left boot over the prone Lawless to make it all square in the 17th minute.

After the restart, a quartet of passes which started with Shauna Fox deep in the visitor's half would lead to a one-v-one showdown between Ralph and the Crusaders keeper - however, the Greenhills native would strike the ball straight at the number 44.

The heat was as unrelenting as Rover's waves of attack and the teams stopped for a water break in the 22nd.

On returning to play, the women in teal must have believed they were witnessing a cruel mirage when Lawless took what proved to be a damning extra touch within her D, McNeill closing out all exits for the Duleek native and trickling the ball into the back of the net in the 32nd minute.

2-1 to the home side.

Rovers were quick to react, O’Reilly dicing Darcie on the right lane, while Melissa O’Kane commanded the Rover's control room from the centre.

A downward header from Jessica Hennessy trickled wide and to the right of the home side's post and at the other end, Crusaders did little to trouble Lawless with their set pieces, the Rovers keeper recovering well and calmly collecting the ball.

After the restart, Rovers were slick and continued to show their metal in attack.

Ralph came within inches of netting the equaliser when the number 19 doled out a lesson in balance and poise, controlling an O’Reilly pass and rocketing the ball beyond Harvey - Clifford's outstretched gloves - and her left-hand post.

Minutes later O’Leary, who orchestrated the left wing like a symphony conductor, feinted and slipped the ball to O’Gorman, the Wicklow native throwing her hands to her head as her shot was saved by the feet of the Strikers goalminder.

Crusaders captain Julie Nelson and defender  Abigail Redmond were kept on their toes and did well to make several crucial interceptions to keep their side a nose in front.

Yet The Hoops kept on coming.

O’Gorman nearly found the net in the 65th, heading the ball downward and attempting an audacious lob - Harvey - Clifford tipping the ball clear with her fingertips in what was an exhibition in goalkeeping.

Calls for a penalty for the home side were waved away when substitute Mairead McCann took a tumble in the box with 20 minutes left on the clock.

Stephanie Zambra replaced Ralph in the 72nd while Aoife Kelly came on for Scarlett Herron in the 74th.

At last, Rover’s thirst for goal was quenched in the 81st when O’Gorman muscled ahead of the Crusaders skipper and with a spectacular flick, fizzed the ball in at the near post.

In the final ten minutes, Rovers pushed for the win, O’Leary revving, the Portmarnock native the Charles Leclerc to Crusaders (Rachel) McClaren.

A wayward deflection that almost caught Lawless off guard set hearts racing down South as four minutes of added time were announced.

O’Kane, who located the Crusaders playmakers with the pinpoint accuracy of a Garmin smartwatch, slid through substitute Mairead McCann, The Hoops supporters clapping in appreciation for the robust challenge.

Zambra would hit the outside of the far right-hand post at the death, the number ten having a word with herself as she jogged away from the D.

The game ended two goals a piece with Shamrock Rovers progressing to the knockout stages of the Avenir Sports All Island Cup.

The Crusaders will journey no further.