Macdara Ferris reports from Tallaght Stadium
Shamrock Rovers made relatively easy work of Finn Harps on Saturday evening at Tallaght Stadium. The 3-1 win, thank to first half goals from Jack Byrne, Dylan Watts and Aaron McEneff, sent the Hoops five points clear of Dundalk at the top of the table with a dozen games to go in this shortened campaign.
Jack Byrne had begun the 2020 season in similar sparkling form to last year and it didn’t take a near 150 day break due to the COVID-19 shutdown to knock him off his stride when things got back going on Saturday evening.
It only took six minutes for Byrne to get the opener as he whipped a free kick up and over the Finn Harps wall for his fourth goal of the season. An overzealous challenge for a header by Leo Donnellan on Rovers captain Ronan Finn had given Byrne the opportunity and he didn’t disappoint.
There may only be 200 people in the ground but it raised a cheer from the Rovers contingent of Directors, officials and the oldest set of ballboys and girls this reporter has ever seen - the club had handed the ball retriever duty to a section of the club supporters who were space out around the empty stands of Tallaght Stadium.
Harps did force Alan Mannus into action when he had to take Kosovar Sadiki’s header off a Ryan Connolly corner on 11 minutes but five minutes later the visitors found themselves two goals behind.
With his international manager Stephen Kenny watching on from the stands, as he sat adjacent to the new League of Ireland Director Mark Scanlon, Byrne turned provider when he slotted Dylan Watts in on goal and he calmly beat the Harps captain McGinley to double the lead.
The two Rovers players combined again on 25 minutes only for a David Webster goal line clearance to save the day for Harps. Byrne’s pass allowed Watts to take it on and his dinked effort cleared McGinley only for the former Rovers defender to get back to clear.
Byrne got his second assist on 37 minutes pushing a pass across the front of the Harps box to Aaron McEneff. He let fly but McGinley won’t have been pleased when, having got his hands to the ball, he let it beat him into the back of the net.
However, Harps did get themselves a goal back six minutes from the break and Stephen Bradley won’t have been happy with his teams defending with the concession. They couldn’t clear Shane McEleney’s throw and Karl O’Sullivan had ample time to slot home at the edge of the six yard area.
McGinley pulled off a brilliant save with his right boot preventing Ronan Finn’s volley two minutes into the second half. All told though it was a quieter half but with no crowd at the game, Ollie Horgan’s shouts echoed around the empty stands as he encouraged his team seeking a second goal to get back into the game. What was also apparent was the sound of Rovers’ crisp passing as they looked to open up the Harps defence to get the fourth.
Byrne made way for fellow Ireland international Graham Burke midway through the half – Rovers had announced earlier in the day that Burke had extended his loan with the Hoops from Preston North End for 12 months.
Harps were most dangerous when Tony McNamee came on as his long throw could reach right into the Rovers penalty area. A late daisy cutter freekick from Burke was the closest Rovers came to adding to their lead. The numbers of substitutions had slowed down the game and the Hoops seemed happy to see out the match to make it ten league wins in a row over Finn Harps.
The Rovers victory made it nine wins in a row in the league – their longest winning sequence in the league in 54 years.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Ronan Finn (C), Gary O’Neill (Rhys Marshall 68), Jack Byrne (Graham Burke 68), Aaron McEneff, Dylan Watts (Rory Gaffney 76), Neil Farrugia (Daniel Lafferty 84); Aaron Greene (Dean Williams 76).
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Liam Scales.
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley (C); Mark Russell (Stephen Doherty h/t), Kosovar Sadiki, David Webster (Gareth Harkin 72); Sam Todd, Shane McEleney, Mark Coyle (Ruairi Harkin h/t), Leo Donnellan, Ryan Connolly (Adrian Delap 67); Karl O’Sullivan, Alex Kogler (Tony McNamee 67).
Subs not used: Patrick McGarvey (gk), Benny Igiehon.
Referee: Neil Doyle
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers).