35-year wait comes down to dramatic kick of the ball
WITH St. Patrick's Athletic and Drogheda United still breathing down their necks, it was very a much a case of Rovers holding their nerve as the title became tantalising close.
Ten points out a possible 12 in September left them within touching distance of the big breakthrough but they faced a difficult run in October, starting with a tricky away assignment against Cork City before facing their three nearest rivals in the remaining weeks.
A victory over Cork wouldn't have secured the Championship but anything other than a defeat would leave Ian Baraclough's side very much on course for glory.
In the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that the game at Turner's Cross turned out to be an anxious occasion. Rovers didn't commit too many men forward but they still showed plenty of adventure when the occasion arose.
Baraclough opted to play five men in midfield, with Joey Ndo and Danny Ventre particularly effective, but the manager had to reshuffle his forces when full-back, Seamus Conneely, who was deputising for Alan Keane, limped out of the action just before half time.
Rovers played some delightful attacking football in the first half but failed to make the breakthrough and it was Cork who looked the more forceful side after the break.
Gary Rogers was obliged to make a critical save to keep out a stinging shot from Ian Turner while Cork were also out of luck when Spillane's header came back into play off the upright.
Baraclough was pleased to settle for the draw, maintaining that it was an important step towards their objective.
"We went there looking for the win but had to settle for a draw. In the circumstances, it was a decent result and the point we got could turn out to be highly important', he said.
The draw in Cork set the scene for a Titanic struggle with St. Pat's the following week.
The Inchicore club needed to win to keep alive their hopes of snatching the title but the permutations were more straight forward for Rovers - a win and they would be the 2012 Champions.
A sell-out crowd of 5,612 turned out on a sundrenched afternoon and they weren't disappointed as the two best teams in the country produced an epic contest.
The previous evening, the Republic of Ireland had been humiliated 6-1 by Germany at the Aviva Stadium but this enthralling match did much to restore the dignity of Irish soccer.
After waiting 35 years for League glory, it all came down to one last dramatic kick of the ball as the title was decided in a sensational circumstances. Having surrendered a two-goal advantage, Rovers looked destined to extend their wait for the trophy for at least another week but then came an explosive finish which will live long in the memory.
There was less than a minute left on the clock when a linesman spotted a handball infringement and up stepped the ice-cool Mark Quigley to convert the resultant penalty, dispatching an emphatic shot to the keeper's right. The goal was greeted with an eruption of wild jubilation on a day which will surely attain legendary status in the history of the Bit O'Red
Roared on by a fanatical crowd, Rovers dominated the first half and two magnificent goals by local hero, Raffaele Cretaro, gave them a thoroughly deserved 2-0 lead at the interval. But Pat's came storming back and goals by Christy Fagan and Chris Forrester had them level by the 59th minute.
Gradually, Rovers regained their composure and Quigley's dramatic winner finally brought the long, agonising wait for the League title to an end.
With the title safely tucked away, Rovers brought a huge contingent of travelling supporters to Drogheda the following week. And there was a real party mood at Hunky Dorys Stadium, even if the result went against the Bit O'Red.
Drogheda, who needed the win to secure a place in European football next season, were well on top in the first half, but had only one goal to show for it – a headed effort by Alan McNally.
Liam Buchanan, making his first start of the season, grabbed an equaliser for Rovers within a minute of the restart and it got worse for Drogheda when Declan O'Brien was sent off. However, the 10 men battled with great conviction and were rewarded when Brian Gannon snatched a dramatic 89th minute winner.
It was only Rovers' second defeat of the season but it didn't diminish the sense of achievement in a historic year.