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Jack Byrne has last word as goal of the season contender overshadowed by Rovers comeback

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Shamrock Rovers lead the Premier Division

Shamrock Rovers lead the Premier Division

Shamrock Rovers lead the Premier Division

HOW good was this? As good as it gets in the League of Ireland, a template for what the new FAI should be striving to achieve.

We had the two best teams in the country at full tilt in a packed, modern stadium, trading blows in a game stacked with moments to live in the memory.

Dundalk’s Jordan Flores scored one of the best goals the league has ever seen, and yet it had slipped down the news agenda by the end of an extraordinary encounter that was settled by the genius of Ireland international Jack Byrne.

His individual effort ensured that Stephen Bradley’s Shamrock Rovers came back off the ropes to score a win that left fans believing this could be their year.

Forget the pre-match prediction of shadow-boxing. This was a heavyweight fight from start to finish, a plot with twists that should pave the way for an epic title race.

The story of the first half could be summed up in a volley.

Jordan Flores’ second goal of the season contender in the space of a week functioned as the border between two significant periods of dominance.

Rovers had been well on top prior to the Englishman’s wonder strike. They kept finding space down Dundalk’s left channel and pushed ahead when Dylan Watts converted at the second attempt after his initial strike was blocked.

Watts had excelled in Waterford on Monday and was the beneficiary from the absence of Graham Burke with Bradley putting his faith in the ex-Bohemians player as his most advanced midfielder.

Prior to his goal, he had released Aaron Greene who almost had too much time to pick his spot and ended up steering the ball wide of the post, much to the frustration of the majority of the 7,522 in attendance – a record league crowd for the venue.

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Still, they were exuberant in the aftermath of the opener, a joy that lasted for two minutes.

Dundalk pressed on from the restart and forced a corner which was lofted to the far post by Michael Duffy and met first time on the run by Flores, a player trying to shake off an injury-prone reputation, who showcased his flexibility and technique to arrow a left-footer into the top corner.

By half-time, the goal had already been watched online by thousands around the world, a number that will cross the million viewers mark by the time it’s finished doing the rounds.

Rovers were punch drunk in the aftermath and fortunate not to concede another as Dundalk smelled blood.

Sean Gannon began to impose down the right side and he was central in a move instigated by Greg Sloggett which culminated with a shot by Scot Cameron Smith being blocked to safety. Alan Mannus then had to be alert to divert a Duffy free over the bar.

Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor were present to watch Byrne, but he endured a frustrating spell where Chris Shields came to the fore. Bradley’s charges needed the whistle and resumed brightly with Byrne revitalised.

Dundalk picked up three yellows in a rapid-fire spell, and Gannon looked to be inhibited by a knock.

Vinny Perth brought in Dan Kelly for Flores to give them an out on the right side and his impact was instant. Rovers had reshuffled their defence after the earlier loss of Joey O’Brien, and Kelly ran at sub Liam Scales before checking back to slip through Pat Hoban with Dundalk’s top scorer dinking the ball over Mannus with aplomb.

Bradley was already preparing to bring in Rory Gaffney as a second striker and the new recruit made his presence felt as the pendulum swung again while Rovers kept chipping away as their guests started to flag in driving rain.

The Hoops earned their equaliser with Byrne sending in a corner and Roberto Lopes stealing a march on Shields to convert with his head.

But that wasn’t the end of the drama. With seven minutes left, and McCarthy en route home to beat the traffic, Byrne jinked away from Shields 20 yards out and found the space to curl the ball beyond the dive of Rogers.

Dundalk came back for more but their efforts were in vain, as Rovers to dug in to hold out and raise the bar for the road ahead.

Shamrock Rovers – Mannus, O’Brien (Scales 13), Lopes, Grace; Finn, Byrne, Bolger, McEneff, Farrugia; Watts (Gaffney 64); Greene.

Dundalk – Rogers, Gannon, Hoare, Boyle, Massey; Shields, Flores (D Kelly 58); Smith (Patching 77), Sloggett, Duffy; Hoban.

Ref – R Hennessy (Limerick).


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