New star shines on Duff's debut night for Shamrock Rovers
Shamrock Rovers 3-0 Cork City
Pat Felon waited until a left-sided winger with the potential to be a star of the future inflicted a final blow on Cork before turning to Damien Duff.
The Tallaght crowd, who had witnessed their team's best display of the season, were still celebrating Brandon Miele cutting through a ragged Cork rearguard to put an emphatic gloss on the scoreline when Duff was readied for an injury-time cameo.
Earlier, the veteran had applauded Miele as his wizardry left Cork in a spin. Indeed, it was a fine touch from the ex-Newcastle trainee that set the wheels in motion for Gavin Brennan's opener.
Therefore, he had earned the ovation that came his way when his number was flashed up by the fourth official, even it was duly eclipsed by the rapturous welcome for Duff.
In the space of his three minutes on the park, the 36-year-old showed trademark enthusiasm by demanding every pass, bollocking team-mates who hadn't spotted his runs and then demonstrating his skilful ability to put his body in the right place to win a free at the edge of the box.
But he would be the first to admit that his colleagues were responsible for the jubilant mood at the final whistle, with Brennan and Mikey Drennan also outstanding.
This success means Rovers will move into second place in the table if they win their game in hand. As it stands, they are 12 points behind rampant Dundalk with two games left against Stephen Kenny's charges.
"Anything is doable," said Fenlon, "We have some massive games coming up and have to try and go win them all if we are to have a chance."
Cork boss John Caulfield wrote his charges out of the race after a second defeat in the space of four days left the Leesiders ten points behind and facing a crunch cup date with St Patrick's Athletic on Friday.
"Dundalk have the league won more or less," he sighed. "All season everyone has been trying to chase them. I suppose, to be fair, Rovers have to play them twice and they might have a slight outside chance but if you were a betting man you'd be paying bets on Dundalk at the moment.
"From our point of view, it's two out of three teams for Europe. We've had a tough run so we're going to have to bounce back. Friday is the biggest game of the season for us and we need to get mentally prepared."
He had no complaints about the outcome of an encounter where he felt the breakthrough was always going to be crucial. Rovers had that lead by the interval and, on the balance of play, they deserved it even though they didn't exactly exude defensive assurance.
They did start with purpose from an offensive point of view with Frenchman Max Blanchard, deployed as a midfielder for this test, unable to find a way past Mark McNulty with a close-range header from a pinpoint Simon Madden cross. Brennan then smashed the post from a dart inside as the spine of the Cork team looked uncharacteristically ragged.
Still, a fine stop from Barry Murphy was required to maintain parity, although the match officials completely missed the fact that Steven Beattie had been denied by the Rovers keeper after a sloppy Gary McCabe crossfield pass was intercepted by the dangerous Cork winger.
Rovers responded by claiming the initiative. Brennan had work to do when the combination of Miele and then Luke Byrne combined for the cross which the Drogheda native met with a perfect header that he executed while outmuscling Dan Murray.
If that angered Caulfield, the genesis of Rovers' second goal in the 56th minute will have infuriated him.
Alan Bennett, Murray's centre-half partner, had come close to scoring on either side of the interval, with McCabe hacking one header off the line and Murphy pawing another over the bar.
However, Bennett was then guilty of a rare lapse as Danny North reacted quickest to Drennan chasing a lost cause and whipping the ball into the six yard area. A deft nod from the English attacker gave McNulty no chance.
That knocked the stuffing out of Cork, with three changes unable to improve their situation.
Indeed, it was the pace of the Hoops on the counter that gave the punters more reason to believe that this fixture was capable of generating a third goal. A classy run from Miele justified that belief, with Fenlon hoping that he can learn from Duff.
"I've told all the players to pick his brains," said the Rovers supremo, who may organise a friendly for next weekend with a view to improving the marquee name's fitness levels ahead of his team's next outing in Sligo on August 29.
Shamrock Rovers - Murphy, Madden, Webster, Kenna, Byrne; Blanchard, McCabe; G Brennan, Drennan, Miele (Duff 89); North (McCaffrey 83).
Cork City - McNulty, Kavanagh (Healy 78), Bennett (Dennehy 61), Murray, O'Connor; Miller, Buckley; Beattie, Gaynor (O'Connell 61), Sheppard; O'Sullivan.
Ref - T Connolly (Dublin)
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