David Wilson reports from Oriel Park
With Dundalk’s biggest game since 2016 on the horizon, a much-changed team suffered a disastrous closing ten minutes to the first half which decided the outcome of this game.
Shamrock Rovers were looking to continue their unbeaten run and, with goals from Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff and an own goal, the Hoops were well on their way to race clear at the top of the table.
Byrne added a sensational fourth from the tightest of angles late on to round off a 4-0 victory and a man-of-the-match performance in front of the Ireland manager Stephen Kenny.
The home side had all eyes on the Europa League play-off tie with KÍ and the team selection showed, with only Chris Shields (who is suspended for Thursday) remained from the heroic win in Transnistria.
Andrew Quinn was brought into at right full back to earn his first start for the Lilywhites. American Joshua Gatt made his first league start for the Lilywhites.
The first quarter lacked real outstanding quality and Rovers could not get into their passing rhythm, though even at that two chances were created for Ronan Finn, but he could not execute.
The previous meeting between the two sides was in a rain-soaked Tallaght in front of just over seven and a half thousand spectators.
That game was lit up by an incredible Jordan Flores volley and a wonderful Byrne weaving run and finish as the season caught fire. This was a world away from that night.
Oduwa was Dundalk’s outlet, and he scampered down the left leaving Lee Grace in his dust. His cross was low. David McMillan made his move toward the near post, but he could not direct it beyond Alan Mannus.
How about this for a sensational finish from Jack Byrne in front of the watching Stephen Kenny! pic.twitter.com/8Gt46qfSJY— Extratime.com (@ExtratimeNews) September 27, 2020
Rovers suddenly found their feet. Nine minutes from half time, Jack Byrne danced by Flores before finding Graham Burke.
Burke fed Finn down the right and his low cross was scuffed by Byrne at the first attempt before hitting a better effort which just evades the clutches of both Aaron McCarey and Shields.
The Hoops continued to apply pressure. Just five minutes after taking the kead, they added a second as Byrne took a corner from the right which swung away from goal.
Liam Scales powered his header toward goal, but McMillan could only deflect it beyond McCarey, much to the delight of the Rovers travelling contingent.
Just before the half a carbon copy of the previous corner, Byrne delivered, and this time Scales was fouled by Will Patching.
Aaron McEneff steeped up and coolly stuck it beyond McCarey low to the keepers left. Game over.
The second half petered out as the the game as a contest was finished as Rovers looked to keep their three-goal lead.
Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli introduced regular first teamers Stefan Colovic and John Mountney and the Lilywhites did improve. Jamie Wynne was also brought into the fold to earn his first team debut.
Dundalk had the better of the closing stages as Rovers conserved their energy for future battles and looked to play on the counter.
As the clock ticked towards 90, Sean Kavanagh’s deflected pass found Byrne down the left channel.
McCarey came rushing out, but Byrne sauntered by the Monaghan shot-stopper before tucking home expertly from 20 yards at a very tight angle. A marvellous piece of skill to round off a great night for Rovers.
Byrne did himself no harm with Ireland manager Stephen Kenny in attendance ahead of a crucial European Championship play off in Slovakia.
Rovers move eight points clear of Bohemians and face Sligo Rovers at home this Friday. Next for Dundalk is the final Europa league play-off game in the Aviva Stadium against KÍ Klasvik on Thursday night.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Lee Grace, Joey O’Brien, Liam Scales; Neil Farrugia Sean Kavanagh (82), Gary O’Neill, Aaron McEneff, Ronan Finn (C) (Rhys Marshall 82), Aaron McEneff; Graham Burke (Dylan Watts 76), Jack Byrne; Aaron Greene (Dean Williams 86)
Unused Substitutes: Leon Pohls (gk), Daniel Lafferty, Thomas Oluwa
Booked: Neil Farrugia (32).
Dundalk: Aaron McCarey; Andrew Quinn (John Mountney 59), Andy Boyle, Chris Shields (C), Cameron Dummigan; Jordan Flores, Will Patching (Val Adedokun 82) ; Daniel Kelly (Jamie Wynne 70), Nathan Oduwa; Joshua Gatt, David McMillan (Stefan Colovic 59)
Subs not used: Jimmy Corcoran (gk), Mark Traynor, Mark Hanratty.
Booked: Will Patching (44), Jordan Flores (64).
Referee: Rob Harvey.
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers).