UCD 0 Shamrock Rovers 3
This 7.45pm kick-off was over as a contest before the end of the 8pm news bulletins. It’s too easy for Shamrock Rovers in this league sometimes, a complaint which is a compliment.
In the early stages of their charge to the title last year, the Hoops did need a string of late goals against considerably weaker teams. Three of their four meetings with Longford Town, the Premier Division’s worst team, were settled by injury-time Rovers efforts.
UCD are the favourites for that position this term, and Stephen Bradley’s side were two up inside 17 minutes, and had registered another by the interval. From the outset, it was really was just a case of ‘how many?’
Jack Byrne is a major assistance to Bradley’s charges in games of this nature. Against inferior opposition, his quality stands out a mile, the ability to slip into space and pick out a pass before the other team can react. Even if they sit deep, Byrne has the precision to pick the lock.
In his first major contribution to this game, the Ireland international slipped into space and saw the chance to float an inviting ball to the back post that allowed Barry Cotter to get a run on John Ryan and convert a header past home keeper Kian Moore, who was perhaps a little wayward in terms of his starting position.
Andy Myler had started with three central defenders and two wing-backs which made it closer to a back five. Presumably, the intention was to be solid at the outset and stay in the game for as long as possible.
Instead, they conceded again just beyond the quarter hour mark when Rory Gaffney, the central Rovers striker, wandered to the left side and executed a superb outside-of-the-boot pass that Danny Mandroiu stretched to push beyond Moore.
It was already safe to assume that the three-in-a-row-seeking Hoops would be going seven points clear at the top of the table.
What they needed to avoid from the rest of the match was drama – and they didn’t quite succeed on that front. Byrne and Mandroiu were both yellow-carded for fouls; an unlikely duo to be punished for that reason.
The real stress for the away bench came when Byrne went down off the ball, clutching his right leg. He was able to get up and walk to the sideline for medical examination, and the sensible decision was to withdraw the 26-year-old with Aaron Greene introduced in his place.
Rovers boss Bradley confirmed afterwards that the injury wasn’t serious.
Greene made his presence felt immediately, sending in the cross that was converted from close range by Gaffney. At this stage, the celebrations from the clear Rovers majority in the 1,676 crowd were borderline going through the motions.
Bradley was able to make a treble switch at half-time and further experiment in the aftermath with rookie Kieran Cruise summoned from the bench and the left-sided Neil Farrugia switched to right wing-back to see if cutting inside onto his favoured foot can be as beneficial for him as it has been for Andy Lyons on the left flank.
That’s a work in progress, yet it was hard to draw firm conclusions from this mismatch.
UCD: Moore, Yoro, Todd, Osam; Farrell (Higgins 68), Keaney, Verdon (Caffrey 54) , Ryan (Keane 54); Kerrigan, Gill (Lonergan 68), Nolan (Duffy 54).
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus, Gannon, Lopes, Hoare; Cotter (Cruise 58), Towell (O’Neill 45), Watts, Lyons (Farrugia 45); Byrne (Greene 39), Mandroiu; Gaffney (Emakhu 45).
Referee: Adriano Reale.