Andrew Dempsey reports from Tallaght Stadium
Shamrock Rovers eased past the relatively limited challenge of Cork City on Friday evening in front of a sparsely populated Tallaght Stadium in their final league game of the season.
Jack Byrne, Lee Grace and Graham Burke all struck for the hosts who made light work of the Leesiders – with Sunday week’s FAI Cup Final now firmly in their sights.
Off the back of a relatively easy 3-0 win away to relegated UCD last week, Stephen Bradley’s Hoops made seven changes from their win in Belfield, with Jack Byrne returning from suspension.
Neale Fenn on the other hand made three changes after his resurgent side earned a hard-fought victory over league winners Dundalk last Friday night at Turners Cross.
In a typically end of season encounter, the Hoops may have been accused of casting one eye on next week’s FAI Cup Final at the Aviva Stadium before the game, but they certainly did not appear to be of that mindset as the game kicked-off.
Aaron Greene was unfortunate to be beaten to the ball by Tadgh Ryan in the visiting gaol, before the ex-Galway United netminder was forced to parry a fiercely hit Jack Byrne effort wide of goal moments after.
The Leesiders also enjoyed a good start to the game themselves, with Eoghan Stokes and Daire O’Connor both linking up well – but both failed to trouble Alan Mannus in the Hoops goal.
With a biting cold reverberating around Tallaght Stadium, Byrne seized the initiative with just over a quarter of an hour gone to give the hosts a deserved lead.
The Irish international latched onto a misplaced ball from Conor McCarthy pass from right-back, before arrowing his effort into the top corner of Ryan’s net, leaving the ex-Galway keeper with no chance.
Bad went to much worse for the visitors minutes later as Lee Grace doubled the Hoops advantage with a header.
Grace’s header had too much power for Ryan, who was unable to keep the score down as Byrne’s out swinger found the head of the ex-Wexford Youth defender who made no mistake from close-range.
As the half-time whistle came closer, the hosts continued to pour forward, with Aaron McEneff seeing his long range effort just go over the bar as Fenn’s City struggled to deal with the Hoops creativity.
Rovers almost made it three before the half-time whistle, with the previously quiet Graham Burke seeing his effort crash off the post after some lovely midfield play saw Byrne and Sean Kavanagh combine well.
However, the Leesiders were almost handed a lifeline before the break, with Beineon O’Brien Whitmarsh just steering his effort wide of goal after a low ball from Colm Horgan found the former Cobh Ramblers striker.
The hosts continued their attacking flow in the early stages of the second half – with Byrne to the fore of their positive play, forcing a good save from City ‘keeper Ryan.
Greene was then denied by the Leesiders shot-stopper with a fierce effort at the near post, being fed in by the lively substitute Neil Farrugia.
The hosts were rewarded for their pressure as the half-wore on, with Graham Burke making it three-nil with a free-kick with just under a quarter of an hour to play.
Ultimately, it was a low-key second half, with the Hoops evidently keeping their legs fresh for next weekend’s showpiece cup final in the Aviva Stadium.
For Cork, it is now a long wait until they resume competitive action, with manager Neale Fenn left with more questions than answers ahead of the 2020 Premier Division campaign.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Lee Grace, Roberto Lopes, Sean Kavanagh (Neil Farrugia, h/t); Gary O’Neill (Brandon Kavanagh, 66), Aaron McEneff (Greg Bolger, h/t); Jack Byrne, Ronan Finn, Graham Burke; Aaron Greene.
Subs not used: Graham Cummins, Kian Clarke, Ethan Boyle, Daniel Lafferty.
Booked: Aaron McEneff (35)
Sent off: None.
Cork City: Tadhg Ryan; Dan Casey, Conor McCarthy, Colm Horgan, Ronan Hurley; Garry Buckley (Dale Holland, h/t), Alec Byrne, Joel Coustrain (Ricardo Dinanga, 59), Daire O'Connor; Beineon O'Brien Whitmarsh, Eoghan Stokes (Rory Doyle, 87).
Subs not used: Darragh Crowley, David Harrington, Jake O'Brien, Kevin O'Connor.
Booked: Conor McCarthy (38), Colm Horgan (79), Eoghan Stokes (80)
Sent off: None.
Referee: Damien MacGraith
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers).