Kilduff on the double to put Hoops in driving seat
Shamrock Rvs 4 Linfield 1
THIS competition has lost its way in recent years to the extent that some of the Monday night gatherings have failed to even prick the interest of the title broadcaster. Hence, the need for a new sponsor in 2014.
However, the intensity of the first meeting of these major powers in the competition served as a reminder of why people thought the tournament would be a good idea in the first place, even if the dominance of the League of Ireland sides looks like removing a cross-border element from the semi-finals.
Linfield may not be feeling so great about the competition this morning after they were comfortably outpointed by Shamrock Rovers with Trevor Croly's men building up an advantage that puts them well in control ahead of next Monday's decider.
The trip to Belfast will naturally be accompanied by a heavy security operation, and there were some unfortunate flashpoints here, particularly 10 minutes after the final whistle as a pocket of Linfield fans clashed with gardai and security as they waited to go home.
Rovers players, who were warming down, had to calm a small number of their own followers who encroached the pitch and were showing signs of wanting to head in that direction.
Prior to that, the nastiness had been restricted to predictable verbal taunts, with the official word being that disturbances around the stadium were restricted to a Linfield fan falling off a bus and a garda being unseated by his horse, with the equine wanderer colliding with a stationery car before providing topical comedy-fodder by making his way towards a supermarket.
On the pitch, Rovers succeeded in making horse meat of their Belfast opponents. Linfield came into this game with the apparent advantage of being in-season. The problem is that it hasn't been a very good season as was demonstrated by the disorganised defending throughout.
Croly will be happy with the way in which his new-look team tackled this encounter.
Ciaran Kilduff is a survivor of the previous regime and the target-man acted as the fulcrum here, with wide men Karl Sheppard and Sean O'Connor playing off him and constantly rotating.
Ronan Finn and Shane Robinson provided further support from midfield, with James Chambers sitting in front of the back four.
Rovers seized the initiative from the outset, winning a series of corner kicks that came to nothing.
While a scrappy period followed, it was the Hoops that looked more dangerous and, fittingly, the breakthrough, which came 11 minutes before the break, was aided by some Linfield inefficiency.
After visiting centre-half William Murphy was punished for a foul on opposite number, Jason McGuinness, O'Connor stepped up to launch a free-kick on goal that was fumbled by Ross Glendinning into the path of Finn, who calmly converted.
A fine long-range strike from Sheppard might have provided a second, with a comical scramble ensuing when Glendinning pushed the ball on to the crossbar. Robinson twice attempted to force home the rebound only to be denied by both the netminder and a goal-line clearance from Jim Ervin.
As the clock ticked into first-half additional time, the blue shirts went to sleep as Finn was given ample time to collect an errant cross and pick out Kilduff, who gleefully nodded the ball home from close range.
After some stern words from Jeffrey, the Irish League outfit came out with renewed focus and, following a pair of near misses, they got their reward when left-back Billy Joe Burns produced the goal of the night with a stunning volley from distance.
The Rovers' response was impressive, with the endeavour of marauding full-back Pat Sullivan teeing up Kilduff for his second of the match with 18 minutes remaining.
Then, substitute Stephen Rice capitalised on the groundwork of man-of -the-match Finn to slot the fourth.
Linfield's misery was compounded when Brian McCaul's last-minute penalty was stopped by Barry Murphy and Ryan Henderson somehow managed to fire the loose ball into the side netting when presented with an open goal.
SHAMROCK ROVERS – Murphy, Sullivan, Foran, McGuinness, Powell; Chambers, Robinson (Rice 74), Finn; Sheppard (McCabe 70), Kilduff, O'Connor (Stewart 85).
LINFIELD – Glendinning, Ervin, Murphy, Armstrong, Burns; Lowry, Garrett (Henderson 70), Mulgrew; McCaul, Thompson (Browne 76), Carvill.
REF – N Doyle (Dublin)