Friday 20 September 2019

Classy Byrne the difference as Rovers progress

Shamrock Rovers 2-1 SK Brann (Shamrock Rovers win 4-3 on aggregate)

Rovers return: Lee Grace celebrates after Jack Byrne’s equaliser at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Rovers return: Lee Grace celebrates after Jack Byrne’s equaliser at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It was fitting that an Irish player with the technique to compete on a European stage made the decisive contribution to prolong Shamrock Rovers' journey.

Jack Byrne was tipped for greatness when he was loaned from Manchester City to Dutch side Cambuur as a teenager and the 23-year-old still has time to get back to a higher plain.

A classy goal and assist in Tallaght last night demonstrated the quality that made him Irish football's hottest property - and set up a tie with Cypriot side Apollon Limassol.

It also guarantees a €500,000 reward for his employers, although pitch invasions after both goals - including a prolonged one after the insurance goal from sub Gary O'Neill - will certainly result in meaty fines from UEFA. There was also a bottle tossed in the direction of visiting goalkeeper Hakon Opdal that will add to the rap sheet.

The majority of the 5,135 savoured the football experience, but a couple of idiots succeeded in giving the Rovers hierarchy a headache.

Still, this display highlighted the growing maturity of Stephen Bradley's side who have closed the gap on Dundalk this year and need to generate the revenue to aid that process. Nights like this illustrate the potential that exists at the club, with Dermot Desmond in talks about buying a 25 per cent stake.

Jack Byrne in action against Amer Ordagic of SK Brann. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack Byrne in action against Amer Ordagic of SK Brann. Photo: Sportsfile

Knocking out a team from a superior league is the kind of progress that is necessary to attract investment to Irish football.

Crucially, Rovers kept their heads after a sloppy second-half concession threatened to undo all of their good work in Brann seven days ago.

Roberto Lopes' injury-time header in that match to secure a 2-2 draw put Rovers in a position of strength heading into the decider. They knew that a low-scoring draw would be enough to secure progression and the onus was on the Norwegian side to really take the initiative In the first half, they failed to do that with the home side's three man defence fairly comfortable.

Rovers effectively had four central midfielders along with wing backs Ethan Boyle and Seán Kavanagh yet there were periods where they weren't able to get bodies forward to support Graham Cummins.

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley following his side's victory. Photo: Sportsfile
Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley following his side's victory. Photo: Sportsfile

Yet Brann showed some vulnerability when they were pressed high and the best chance of the half came for the hosts when Ronan Finn, their most advanced midfielder, picked the pocket of dithering Bismar Acosta Evans before forcing a smart stop from Opdal.

With Byrne and Dylan Watts involved in some neat passages and Greg Bolger solid, Rovers were well able to compete technically.

Good midfield play created another opening from the restart with right wing back Ethan Boyle drilling narrowly wide.

Brann had mixed things up at the break, sending in Ivory Coast native Daouda Bamba for Ghanaian striker Gilbert Koomson, a change that reflected the range of nationalities in their squad.

And the new man made a vital impact with a goal that came from nothing. It was a clearance from the Brann box by Opdal that started the move with a flick from Veton Berisha exposing a ponderous Rovers defensive line with a well timed run from Bamba capped by the calm rounding of Mannus and a confident finish.

Natives

It was followed by a rocky patch for the natives and there were murmurs about attacking problems when Cummins failed to trouble Opdal with a weak header from a Byrne cross. Bradley sent for English front man Dan Carr with 15 to go and his presence was vital in the recovery effort.

He helped Ronan Finn to set up Byrne for the leveller, with the Rovers playmaker killing the ball with a superb swivel that allowed him to dink the ball over the advancing Opdal.

Brann were heading out on away goals and had to go for it, and that left gaps that Rovers exploited on the counter to add to Norwegian pain with a Carr break and a precise Byrne touch teeing up O'Neill to finish via a deflection.

The cavalry was sent forward in the frantic dying stages and Bamba was inches away from sending the tie to extra-time. But Rovers regrouped to gain a deserved passage to the second round.

SHAMROCK ROVERS - Mannus, O'Brien, Lopes, Grace; Boyle, Bolger, Watts (McEneff 63), Kavanagh; Byrne, Finn (O'Neill 80); Cummins (Carr 74)

BRANN - Opdal; Teniste (Karadas 84), Acosta Evans, Rismark, Kristiansen; Haugen, Ordagic, Strand (Jensson 84); Rolantsson, Berisha, Koomson (Bamba 45)

Ref - K Hovdanum (Faroe Islands)

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport