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SHAMROCK Rovers claimed an invaluable win to stay in the hunt for the SSE Aitricity League Premier Division title in front of 1,750 supporters and Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill.

And for the third time in four weeks Dean Kelly - a player who appeared surplus to requirements prior to the mid-season break - was the man they had to thank.

With Ciaran Kilduff potentially on his way to Sligo in exchange for their leading striker, Danny North, and St Pat's keen to add Karl Sheppard to their ranks, a pathway has developed for Kelly to jump from fourth choice to first in Croly's plans.

And he has taken his chance, scoring against UCD and St Pat's prior to last night's game and then changing the course of this game with his opportunist finish in the 57th minute. From there on in, Rovers looked a different team.

Gone was the hesitancy which characterised their play in the first half. In its place was a confidence which has only been seen sporadically this year.

And yet once they found their rhythm they looked a class apart, something you most certainly would not have said in the first half. Then it was Bray who set the tone, creating the half's two clear openings, David Cassidy the creator each time, Jake Kelly and Graham Kelly the players who narrowly missed the target.

Had they scored then the pattern of this game would have unfolded in a radically different way. Rovers - it seemed - were there for the taking because they not only lacked confidence but also spark.

And while they played with a lot more urgency in the second half, Shane Robinson driving them forward from midfield, they needed Kelly's goal to allow their self-belief soar. Yet it wasn't much of a goal, a three-yard tap-in to be precise, after Dave Scully's attempt to clear his lines with a header backfired cruelly, falling straight into Kelly's path via the upright.

And the game changed. Rovers, now dominant, added two more goals, Jason McGuinness getting number two with a brilliant header from Gary McCabe's 63rd minute corner before Robinson made it three on 71 minutes when he powered forward from midfield to get on the end of Simon Madden's cross.


Three goals meant three points and a job well done. But it still doesn't tell the full story of how this game unfolded.

Bray, undeniably, were the better side in the opening half. But without a lead to defend, they sensed trouble.

And it came, Kelly getting the breakthrough, McGuinness and Robinson adding the cream on a night when Evan Osam, the son of the former St Pat's midfielder, Paul Osam, became the club's youngest first-team debutant since 1978.

Aged just 16, he looks a class apart. So did Rovers - but only from the moment Kelly scored.