Macdara Ferris reports from Tolka Park
The Hoops made history against Shelbourne on Monday night with their 2-0 win at Tolka Park seeing them conclude their league winning season without a defeat.
Their win, earned with goals from Jack Byrne and Aaron Greene - coupled with Finn Harps’ victory at home over Waterford, means that Shelbourne will face Longford Town in the relegation/promotion playoff.
Stephen Bradley’s side became the first team to go unbeaten in a league campaign since the 1920s. Only twice before had a team gone through a season without a loss - both Shamrock Rovers sides in the 18 game 1924/25 and 1926/27 seasons.
Looking for a win to take them clear of Finn Harps, Ian Morris deployed Gary Deegan and Sean Quinn as holding players in front of the Shels back four to try and stifle Rovers attacking options and they were reasonably effective in the opening period.
Shels had the ball in the back of the net seven minutes in when Karl Sheppard rose high to head home but the assistant referee’s flag was also high in the air as he adjudged the Shels player offside.
Jack Brady did really well to keep the game scoreless when a quarter of an hour in he twice stopped the Hoops in their tracks. He first saved Aaron Greene’s driven effort from the left before popping up to prevent Aaron McEneff slotting home the follow up.
The Hoops had a number of Jack Byrne corner kicks that Shels defended adequately although they did allow Joey O’Brien, returning to the team following suspension, to get a free header that he got on target only for Brady to save.
Greene went close with a header off a Rhys Marshall cross before some Jack Byrne magic broke the deadlock midway through the half. He picked up a pass off Sean Kavanagh inside his own half.
He spun Gary Deegan in the centre circle putting the ball through the Shels captain’s legs and was allowed to run and run goalwards by Shels who backed off to their cost.
When he got to the edge of the area, he let fly to beat Brady with a low shot into the bottom left corner of the net.
Five minutes later word filtered through from Finn Park that Harps had taken the lead over Waterford which was not the news that the Shelbourne substitutes sitting in front of the pressbox wanted to hear.
The Hoops doubled their lead just before the hour mark with a goal that was the product of a fine passing move with Marshall, Byrne and Watts involved. Aaron Greene was on hand for the Hoops to turn Sean Kavanagh's cross from the left home from inside the six yard area.
Byrne’s first half goal was his ninth of the season moving him one behind league goalscorer Pat Hoban but his chance of topping the goalscoring charts ended when Ronan Finn replaced him on 64 minutes.
Rob Harvey had been busy brandishing yellow cards and after giving Deegan two, out came the red card with five minutes remaining and out went any hopes of finding a couple of late goals.
Substitute Aaron Dobbs had gone closest to grabbing a goal when his backpost shot bounced down and over Alan Mannus but also over the crossbar. Rovers stood firm and earned their tenth clean sheet in the last 11 games.
It meant they also claimed another record for conceding the fewest number of goals in a league season - their concession of just seven goals beat the record of eight goals held by St. James’s Gate since the very first League of Ireland season back in 1921/22.
There was late drama as Dan Byrne was booked for a heavy tackle on Danny Lafferty in front of the Shamrock Rovers bench. Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley made his feelings clear to Byrne who came across to converse with him on the sideline.
Rob Harvey gave Bradley a red card which means he won’t be on the sidelines for their FAI Cup quarter-final away to Finn Harps as Rovers now look to retain their FAI Cup and their quest to secure their first double since 1987.
Shelbourne: Jack Brady; Mark Byrne, Oscar Brennan, Dan Byrne, Alex O'Hanlon; Gary Deegan, Sean Quinn (Brian McManus 48); Karl Sheppard (Alex Cetiner 60), Shane Farrell, Dayle Rooney (Aaron Dobbs 60); Ciarán Kilduff.
Subs not used: Colin McCabe, Daniel O'Reilly, Karl Moore, Aidan Friel.
Booked: Mark Byrne (44), Gary Deegan (54), Oscar Brennan (59 and 85), Shane Farrell (81), Dan Byrne (90+1)
Sent off: Gary Deegan (85)
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Lee Grace, Joey O’Brien, Liam Scales; Rhys Marshall, Dylan Watts, Aaron McEneff, Sean Kavanagh (Danny Lafferty 75); Jack Byrne (Ronan Finn 63), Aaron Greene, Graham Burke (Dean Williams 84).
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Max Murphy, Darragh Nugent, Thomas Oluwa.
Booked: Sean Kavanagh (55), Graham Burke (64).
Referee: Rob Harvey
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Dylan Watts (Shamrock Rovers)