Seanie Maguire double sinks Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght
Shamrock Rovers 1-2 Cork City
A brace from Seanie Maguire gives Cork City their fifth straight win as the Leesiders extend their lead over Derry City to six points at the top of the table.
It's surely a worry for the rest of the teams in the League of Ireland that Cork City can set themselves clear at the top of the table, with five wins from five, and still claim that they can do, and must do, a lot better.
Cork came home from Dublin with another win, 2-1 away to Shamrock Rovers, with another delivery of goals from last season's top scorer Sean Maguire.
A scrappy affair was summed up by the bare stats: two of the three goals came from the penalty spot, the other arising from a dreadful error by Rovers keeper Tomer Chencinski, and this is a game that will not live long in the memory, DVD sales of the full 90 minutes the stuff of the bargain bin variety.
It's a concern for Rovers that after five games of the 2017 season their points tally (6) shows how far off the pace they are but for Cork, playing poorly but winning is the stuff that league title challenges are built on.
"In the past couple of games we have not played to the best of our ability but we've still come away with six points," said Maguire, who later denied that he had dived for the crucial penalty.
"But this time last year we were battering teams and getting draws. This year, we are a different breed of animal, we are grafting out games and getting three points which we did here, in difficult conditions, against a good Shamrock Rovers team."
For City boss John Caulfield, it was that man Maguire who made the difference. "I am disappointed in that a lot of our players didn't play well, overall it might have looked like a draw as neither team could open up the other but the difference we have is Maguire," he said.
The Kilkenny-born forward scored in his fifth successive league game and while he has managed some classy goals, his first goal in this one was a howler as far as the Hoops were concerned.
Defender Danny Devine had headed the ball back to keeper Chencinski and there appeared to be little need for panic, but panic there was as the Canadian international tried to play the ball out, was dispossessed by Maguire who slid the ball home.
Being 1-0 down so early in the game was a shock to the system, but Rovers responded well and were the better side for long spells, though Chencinski was almost beaten again on 21 minutes, Kevin O'Connor striking a free kick which needed a touch from the Rovers goalkeeper.
Yet six minutes from the half time break Rovers were level, Graham Burke scoring from the penalty spot after former Rovers man Conor McCormack handled in the box under pressure from Darren Meenan's cross, and then Gary Shaw went close to putting them ahead just before the break.
Cork were unusually subdued for long spells after the restart, though the conditions - persistent rain and howling wind - made sure that any ball-players on the park would be denied a chance to strut their stuff.
Rovers were the better side for much of that half, the game, even: Shaw and Trevor Clarke tried from long range and on 82 minutes, the Hoops' best player on the night, ex-Aston Villa man Graham Burke, struck the crossbar.
Grit, not glamour, was going to win this game and it turned out to be a penalty which swung the day.
With only four minutes of normal time left, Maguire burst into the Rovers box, was felled in the area by Dave Webster and ref Jim McKell made another penalty call, Maguire stepping up to claim his sixth of the season. The Rovers players made it clear that they felt Maguire had dived but for Hoops boss Stephen Bradley, that was a moot point.
"It doesn't matter if he dived or not, we shouldn't make the tackle," said Bradley.
"We're very naive to make that tackle in the box where a forward, every forward, is going to go down. It's silly.
"It's frustrating, you know? You look at the second-half, we got into them, we pinned them in, we battered them, hit the crossbar, much the better team and two silly mistakes costs us the game," added Bradley.
The fixture list was kind to Cork as this Friday evening fixture means they could sit back today and watch to see how the chasing pack of Dundalk (at home to St Pat's tonight) and Derry City (also at home, to Drogheda United) would fare, though Cork admit they must up their own game before their next test, at home to champions Dundalk next weekend.
SHAMROCK ROVERS – Chencinski, Madden, Devine, Webster, Clarke, McAllister, Meenan (O'Connor, 90), Finn, Connolly (Doona, 80), Burke, Shaw (Boyd, 73).
CORK CITY – McNulty, McCormack, Dunleavy (Bennett, 70), Delaney, O'Connor, Buckley, Beattie (Sheppard, 61), Morrissey, Keohane, Dooley (Ellis, 77), Maguire
Ref – Jim McKell