O’Neill thrilled to break Hoops duck on big stage
SHAMROCK RVS 2
SETANTA CUP FINAL
A day of firsts in Tallaght. But, as much as Shamrock Rovers will revel in claiming the season's opening honours with a maiden Setanta Cup success against Dundalk, the glow was brightest off Gary O'Neill's grin.
His first goal for the club – after 65 minutes – was also the game's key moment. Afterwards, he was understandably in excitable form, most notably when trying to distract teammates from media interviews. As he said himself, it was good to give something back – in every sense.
“Deep down, I tried not to let it bother me and I'll always put team results ahead of personal goals, but I was getting stick off the boys so it's great to score,” he said.
O'Neill's goal came from a deceptively difficult finish after man of the match Ronan Finn had ripped apart Dundalk's left side. The midfielder's assist wasn't the only thing O'Neill could see coming.
“We were in the away-team dressing-room. My kit was laid out in exactly the same spot as the FAI Cup final two years ago. I thought that was a good omen to start the day off.”
O'Neill's goal arrived only moments after first-choice centre-forward Gary Twigg came on, as manager Michael O'Neill attempted to break the deadlock. As to whether that will signal a future switch to 4-4-2, the scorer insisted it would probably be “horses for courses on certain games”.
His manager was delighted that O'Neill finally vindicated his recent hard work with a goal – “his allround play has been excellent” – as well as the fact that his team were also vindicated by the style of victory.
The open, attacking game was a counterpoint to critics of Rovers' style.
Manager O'Neill has, of course, insisted they were always playing like that. It just helps when the opposition are as adventurous as Dundalk. Even if that did cause a few miskicks and miscues in Rovers' defence early on.
“We tried to start the game from the back as much as possible and to be fair to Dundalk, they came and pressed us.
At times we were playing when maybe we shouldn't have played. We caused our own problems. But I have to applaud them as well for their bravery in trying to play,” he said.
Ian Foster was even prouder of his players, despite the disappointment of ending up with nothing from a competition they had only enhanced.
“We took the champions to the wire. I know it's finished 2-0, but we've started the game with four teenagers and a lot of debutants in a cup final.
What a fantastic learning curve,” said Foster. “They're heartbroken, they're in tears but we've come an awful long way and I'm immensely proud.”
It was Billy Dennehy's deflected injury-time goal that ultimately eased Rovers' worries by making it 2-0. It also ensured they lifted the only Irish trophy that had eluded the club.
“We took this competition seriously from the word go... It's been good for the players as it has given them a taste for it,” manager O'Neill said. “They all have a medal today. Some of them are young and it's the first thing they've won in their careers and at Rovers. It's good for them. They've tasted success.”
That's no first for Rovers as a club. And all the suggestions are that they'll taste a lot more in the coming seasons.
DUNDALK – Cherrie; Madden, Hawkins, Hector, Murphy; Gaynor (Breen 85), Bolger, Kearns, McDonnell (Bennett 9); Byrne (Ward 59), Quigley.
SHAMROCK ROVERS – Mannus; Sullivan, Murray, Oman, Stevens; McCormack, Rice (Twigg 64), Finn, Dennehy, Sheppard (McCabe 78); O'Neill.
REF – A Kelly (Cork).