Patrick O’ Connor reports from Tallaght Stadium
Shamrock Rovers clinched the league title in emphatic fashion in Tallaght Stadium on Friday night when they had a more than comfortable 3-0 win over Finn Harps.
This victory confirms their status as the most decorated club in League of Ireland history with 19 league titles, five clear of their nearest rivals Dundalk, not to mention the 25 FAI Cups they have secured since their foundation in 1899.
Over 7,000 vociferous Hoops fans piled into Tallaght Stadium, and they certainly helped their team by creating a vibrant atmosphere in the ground from well before the kick off time.
Stephen Bradley left nothing to chance last night by selecting a very strong team and such is the strength of depth of his squad that he could afford to leave such seasoned campaigners as captain Ronan Finn, Sean Hoare, Gary O’Neill, Aaron Greene and Graham Burke on the bench.
Rovers were in bullish form from the very start and forced a corner in the first minute of the game, a sign of things to come. They did not profit from that set piece but within another three minutes had taken the lead through Danny Mandroiu.
Wing back Sean Gannon played a long ball through the middle, Mandroiu controlled the pass as he got between the Harps’ centre backs and he then rounded goalkeeper Mark McGinley before sliding the ball into an empty net in front of the full South Stand, cue fireworks and celebrations from the Rovers fans.
The Hoops then proceeded to totally dominate the game, stroking the ball around at will and not allowing Harps to get any foothold in the match.
It was no surprise when the Hoops went 2-0 up in the 23rd minute, this time with Dylan Watts the provider.
Rovers built an attack on their right flank, the ball arrived at the feet of Watts who can see a pass quicker than most players in the league, and his cross allowed Mandroiu to stoop low and divert an angled header into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Harps offered very little resistance during the whole of the first half which was surprising as they normally are a very dogged and whole hearted team but strangely these attributes were missing on Friday night.
Rovers had numerous changes to make it three before half time, with Neil Farrugia, Richie Towell, Rory Gaffney and Watts all going close but they found Harps ‘keeper McGinley in excellent form and it remained 2-0 at the break.
There was some improvement from Harps in the second half, particularly from the substitutes. Will Seymore and Dan Hawkins were very prominent, but in general they were unable to put any sustained pressure on Rovers and goalkeeper Alan Mannus was hardly tested over the course of the 90 minutes.
Ollie Horgan’s side did manage to keep the score line at 2-0 for the majority of the second half but the inevitable third goal arrived in the 87th minute and it was two of Bradley’s substitutes who combined to seal the title for Rovers.
Burke played a slide rule pass to Aidomo Emakhu, who turned 18 during the week, and in a carbon copy of Mandroiu’s fourth minute goal, he strode through the centre of the Harps defence, rounded McGinley and rolled the ball into an empty net.
The final whistle was greeted by an invasion of Hoops supporters, mostly kids but many adults also, and the Rovers players remained on the pitch with them well into the night, nobody wanting the party to end!
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace; Sean Gannon, Richie Towell (Gary O’ Neill 72), Neil Farrugia (Aidomo Emakhu 83), Dylan Watts (Graham Burke 72), Chris McCann, Daniel Mandroiu (Conor Noonan 80), Rory Gaffney (Aaron Greene 72).
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk); Sean Hoare, Ronan Finn Dylan Duffy.
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Ethan Boyle, David Webster (c), Shane McEleney, Jordan Mustoe, Karl O'Sullivan (Adam Foley 69), Mark Coyle (Will Seymore 46), Ryan Connolly (Stephen Doherty 81), Ryan Rainey (Dan Hawkins 46), Barry McNamee, Sean Boyd (Tunde Owolabi 60).
Subs not used: Gerard Doherty (gk), Luke Rudden, Mark Timlin, Nathan Logue.
Booked: Ryan Connolly (80).
Referee: Paul McLaughlin
Extratime.com Player of the Match: Danny Mandroiu (Shamrock Rovers)