O'Neill livid after Rovers denied late spot-kick
Shamrock RVs 1
It's just as well that Michael O'Neill can bypass Dundalk on his trips home to Northern Ireland. The border town is an unhappy hunting ground for the Shamrock Rovers supremo.
His team left a windswept Oriel Park yesterday afternoon with a point -- more than they managed on their two visits here last season -- yet they travelled up the M1 feeling they were robbed of the full haul after having a late penalty appeal waved away.
Karl Sheppard went down under contact from Ross Gaynor and both managers agreed that a spot-kick was the inevitable consequence. Alas, neither referee Derek Tomney nor nearest assistant Mark Gavin deemed it an offence, enraging the large travelling support, who felt they were denied three second-half penalties.
The furious O'Neill was duly sent to the stands for the second year in succession at this ground, with the Hoops boss declaring himself "bewildered" by the performance of the refereeing team.
Fourth official Darren Coombes, who was central to the dismissal of Bohs manager Pat Fenlon at Dalymount on Friday, told Tomney that the visiting boss had taken his protests too far.
"I don't think we'll see a clearer penalty," reflected O'Neill. "And if I'm sent to the stand for that reaction, well, every manager should be sent to the stand. I see how people in other dugouts behave.
"At the end of the day, they (officials) never had control of the game and that's the disappointing aspect. It's a difficult job, but you expect them to get the basics right."
"I asked to speak to the referee after, but I was told I wasn't allowed to. Maybe I'll just have to start the next game in Dundalk in the stand."
Asked about the assistant referee's view of the penalty, O'Neill suggested that the authorities would be better off giving flags to himself and opposite number Ian Foster.
The Dundalk boss was happy with the point considering that he's down to the bare bones. Centre-half Colin Hawkins battled through with a hamstring injury, while Daniel Kearns (pleurisy) and Jason Byrne (Achilles) also wouldn't have togged out if Foster had similar options on the bench.
The Liverpudlian doesn't have that luxury though. Even with the presence of those three performers, Dundalk couldn't fill their subs bench.
While penalty chatter was the focus of the post-mortem, it was the wind that dominated this scrappy encounter. Rovers started into the breeze, but were the stronger team for the opening half hour. They deserved the lead, a goal borne from Enda Stevens dispossessing Kearns and releasing Sheppard, who smartly converted past the advancing Peter Cherrie.
However, the locals levelled before the interval when Stephen Rice felled Mark Quigley in the box. Byrne confidently slotted away his 178th league goal, bringing him level with Turlough O'Connor at joint-third in the all-time League of Ireland list.
The Lilywhites were brighter after the resumption with midfielders Stephen McDonnell and Keith Ward coming to the fore. Centre-half Michael Hector erred in mistiming his run when a Byrne centre could have provided the lead.
O'Neill duly utilised the strength of his bench, and the champions seized the initiative for the final quarter. The impressive Sheppard -- who did squander a one-on-one -- was a constant thorn in Dundalk's side, and it was no surprise that he was involved in the late drama.
"My players are adamant it wasn't a penalty," said Foster, with Byrne adding, "It was one of those where you leave your leg in and look for it. But it was about time we got a bit of luck."
Evidently, the Rovers camp felt there was a bit more to it than that.
Dundalk -- Cherrie; Madden, Hector, Hawkins, Murphy; Kearns, McDonnell, Ward, Gaynor; Quigley, Byrne.
Shamrock Rovers -- Mannus; Sullivan, Murray, Oman, Stevens; Rice, Finn; Sheppard, McCabe (Kavanagh 65), Dennehy (Kelly 81); O'Neill (Kilduff 71).
Ref -- D Tomney (Dublin).