THERE were plenty of decisions looming in the corridors of power in Tallaght after tonight’s Dublin derby as Shamrock Rovers fell apart in front of their own fans eyes and were humiliated by local rivals and league leaders St Patrick’s Athletic.
Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong for the Hoops as they slumped to their biggest defeat at Tallaght Stadium, saw two men sent off and lost their goalkeeper to injury at half-time after handing the visitors the advantage early on with two gifts of goals that were helped, in part, by some questionable refereeing from Anthony Buttimer.
It was grim stuff for the hosts and music to the Saints ears as they continued their march on the title. Conan Byrne scored a remarkable four goals and, while they lead Dundalk by just the one point at the top, this was the kind of fillip that could well lift Liam Buckley’s men to their Holy Grail.
Certainly, their fans floated back towards the Luas and Inchicore. Earlier this season they were taken apart by the same opponents on this ground so the win, and its nature, was extra sweet.
Throw in the antipathy between their manager and his former assistant Croly and you had the perfect cocktail.
As for the Rovers boss, he is under severe pressure now. Stephen Kenny was summarily dismissed after a derby defeat to Bohemians last season and now he is sitting 13 points clear of his old club in second with Dundalk.
The board have backed Croly with recent signings but another season without Europe is now a real possibility and the desperate, relegation-threatened Gypsies are next up.
The disaster began earlier and rarely abated as, five minutes in, Gary McCabe lost the ball under pressure from Stephen Maher and the ball broke to Byrne who calmly swept the ball home.
The Hoops saw chances from Sean O’Connor, Ronan Finn and Karl Sheppard go a-begging and they were made pay by Byrne at the other end in controversial circumstances.
Anto Flood dispossessed Derek Foran and broke through, only to be denied by Richard Brush. Buttimer spotted a tug on the striker and dismissed Foran for denying a goalscoring opportunity, despite the chance taking place. Byrne made no mistake.
Brush failed to reappear for the second-half and was replaced by Barry Murphy who firstly saved well from Ger O’Brien but was soon picking the ball out of his net.
It happened just after Sean O’Connor saw red for hauling Chris Forrester down on the counter. The former Saint, who claimed he switched clubs because Rovers were more ambitious than Pat’s, gave the one-fingered salute to his former fans as he followed Foran off.
Moments later, Ronan Finn rashly fouled Forrester and Greg Bolger’s quick-free found Byrne in acres of space and he gave Murphy no chance to complete his hat-trick.
He wasn’t finished there, however, following through on Murphy’s save from Flood’s header for a fourth. There were still 28 minutes to go.
Tallaght was dumbstruck as the Saints fans partied in their corner as their team took the foot off the pedal. They had done enough.
Whatever’s decided at Lansdowne Road tomorrow in front of more than five times the crowd that was at Tallaght, there’s not a chance it will be this dramatic.
SHAMROCK ROVERS – Brush (Murphy h-t); McCormack, Sullivan, Foran, Ledwith; Finn, Ryan, Robinson; O’Connor, Sheppard (Dennehy 76), McCabe (Elebert 33).
ST PATRICK’S ATH – Clarke, O’Brien, Kenna, Browne, Bermingham; Byrne, Russell, Maher (Gannon 66), Bolger, Forrester (Kavanagh 76); Flood (Fagan 66).
REFEREE – A Buttimer (Cork)