Twigg gets champions straight on front foot
Shamrock Rvs 3 Dundalk 1
NEW season, familiar script. A Shamrock Rovers victory at Tallaght with Gary Twigg the goalscoring hero.
There was a bit more depth to the story of this season opener, however, as Michael O'Neill's Hoops took their time to click into gear, and were helped by the fact that Dundalk played the majority of this game with 10 men after Peter Cherrie's 23rd-minute dismissal.
In the end, the margin of victory could have been wider, but the key to success was the manner in which the defending champions responded to falling behind in the final minute of the first half.
Jason Byrne put the 10 men ahead after being felled by the ponderous Dan Murray, with the ex-Bohs striker milking the celebrations at the venue where he famously missed a penalty for his former employers the season before last.
The hosts tipped off quickly to restore parity before the interval, with the impressive Gary O'Neill cushioning a cross into the path of fellow winter signing Gary McCabe, who unleashed a drive that was too hot to handle for sub Dundalk 'keeper Paul Murphy.
Dundalk could have attempted to park the bus with a goal lead, so McCabe's strike changed the half-time state of affairs. Ten minutes into the second half Rovers were 3-1 up thanks to a brace from Twigg after mastering the art of spreading the ball to utilise their numerical advantage, with O'Neill and fellow Sporting Fingal refugee Ronan Finn impressive.
They coasted to the three points from there, an eventuality that seemed improbable in the early stages with the Louth men emerging like a side with the benefit of two serious Setanta Cup games against Linfield under their belt.
After some slick passing, they had chances to take an early lead, with the best of them falling to right-back Simon Madden, who produced a fine stop from Hoops 'keeper Alan Mannus after being played into acres of space.
The visitors were left to rue that miss when Cherrie was deservedly sent for an early bath after advancing outside his area, smashing a clearance against O'Neill and then pulling down the Rovers newboy as he barrelled towards goal.
Referee Alan Kelly had a simple decision there, and the appeals from green and white shirts were muted before Byrne's penalty.
McCabe's debut thunderbolt improved the spirits of the majority in the 5,263 attendance, and they were in raptures four minutes into the second half when a terrible defensive header by the experienced Colin Hawkins left Murphy in no man's land, with Twigg displaying trademark prowess to ghost in and nod the ball into its intended destination.
There was more style about the insurance goal with O'Neill, an expert at holding the ball up and bringing others into play, adroitly sending the Scotsman scampering into space. His left-foot conversion gave Murphy little chance.
Game over, although Twigg's composure let him down when it came to securing his hat-trick. He had three chances to claim the match ball, with Murphy stopping the first before Madden produced two heroic clearances off the line.
O'Neill, who had the luxury of introducing Stephen Rice, Dean Kelly and Paddy Kavanagh from the bench, didn't look too flustered. He knows that when it really matters, Twigg is still the man to deliver. Ominous news for everybody else.
Shamrock Rovers -- Mannus, Sullivan, Murray, Oman, Stevens; McCabe, Finn, Turner (Rice 76), Dennehy (Kavanagh 70); Twigg, O'Neill (Kelly 83)
Dundalk -- Cherrie, Madden, Hawkins, Guthrie, Osborne (Hector 50); Kearns, Bennett, Bolger (Maher 81), Gaynor; Byrne, Quigley (Murphy 23)
Ref -- A Kelly (Cork)