Macdara Ferris reports from Tallaght Stadium
With their 2-0 FAI Cup semi-final win over Sligo Rovers in Tallaght, Shamrock Rovers are one match away from retaining the cup they waited 32 years to lift and winning the club’s first double since their last days playing in Milltown.
They will have one final game of the season next Sunday in the Aviva Stadium when they can look to end with an invincible season without a domestic defeat across 22 league and cup games.
Aaron McEneff continued where he left off in the quarter-final when he scored two goals to get the Hoops back into the tie against Finn Harps. In the first half in the semi-final, he grabbed another two goals, taking him to seven goals for the season and that was enough for the Hoops to wrap up the victory.
Rhys Marshall was the creator for both of them. The Hoops had won an early corner after Graham Burke’s long distance freekick came off the Sligo Rovers wall. When Jack Byrne played it in on four minutes, Marshall flicked the ball on and McEneff controlled it on his thigh before firing home inside the six yard box.
In first half injury time he added his second of the match to take the contest away from Sligo Rovers. He picked up a nice pass from Marshall who was impressive in his wing back role as Ronan Finn moved into the centre of the team. The Derryman raced goalwards and from the edge of the Bit O’Red’s box his left foot low effort whizzed past Ed McGinty.
The visitors will have felt unlucky to be two goals down when Paul McLaughlin blew his half time whistle particularly as Liam Buckley’s side had come into the game in the final 15 minutes of the half. However, they were just too wasteful in front of the Hoops goal with Ronan Coughlan being the main culprit.
Just after the half hour mark a one-two with Ryan De Vries allowed Coughlan shoot but he couldn’t work Alan Mannus in the home goal. A little while later he did force Mannus into action when his header was at least on target.
The Hoops ‘keeper had to be quickly off his line on a couple of occasions during this spell of Sligo Rovers pressure. He snuffed out a Jesse Devers chance from a long ball off David Cawley and was brave to dive at Lewis Banks’ feet.
Prior to that he saved a long distance Banks effort and those saves set up the platform for the home side to double their lead at the end of the opening half.
Stephen Bradley was suspended from the dugout but his shouts of encouragement from the stands could be heard in the behind-closed-doors atmosphere in Tallaght that was made more moody by the second half fog.
The first 45 minutes had been played out in blinding November sunshine with Ed McGinty wearing a baseball cap as he looked towards the south stand but then the fog rolled in. The first chance of the second period fell to Sean Kavanagh who hit a left foot cutter five minutes in that forced McGinty into another save.
But it was the visitors who piled the pressure on after that. They won a couple of corners and two more shots on goal before the hour mark that required attention from Mannus. Dylan Watts was wasteful when McGinty made a mess of a deep Kavanagh cross but the match went on only interrupted by a series of second half substitutes which included Greg Bolger coming on for the home team for his first appearance since breaking his leg in July.
The Hoops domestic unbeaten run now stands at 28 matches and they have gone 520 days without a league or cup defeat in Tallaght Stadium. The last time Shamrock Rovers won the double, they beat Sligo Rovers in a home semi-final in Glenamalure Park and the Hoops will be hoping that that omen from 1987 will help them in next Sunday’s FAI Cup Final in the Aviva Stadium.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Liam Scales, Lee Grace; Rhys Marshall, Ronan Finn © (Darragh Nugent 89), Dylan Watts (Greg Bolger 75), Aaron McEneff, Jack Byrne (Neil Farrugia 75), Sean Kavanagh (Danny Lafferty 75); Graham Burke (Dean Williams 82).
Subs not used: Killian Cahill (gk), Thomas Oluwa.
Booked: Ronan Finn (40).
Sligo Rovers: Edward McGinty (GK); Lewis Banks, John Mahon, Gary Buckley, Regan Donelon; Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, David Cawley © (Danny Kane 74), Niall Morahan (Darragh Noone 67), Jesse Devers (Alex Cooper h/t); Ryan De Vries (Will Seymore 67); Ronan Coughlan.
Subs not used: Luke McNicholas (GK), Darren Collins, Sigitas Olberkis.
Booked: David Cawley (26), Ronan Coughlan (82).
Referee: Paul McLaughlin
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Aaron McEneff (Shamrock Rovers)