Rampant Rovers rule for third year running
LOOKING FOR a third title in a row, Shamrock Rovers emerged from this game as worthy champions with two second-half goals helping them to clinch the crown by seeing off nearest challengers North End United in clinical fashion in this crucial Premier Division game played at Belvedere on Sunday last.
Going into this final league game, a draw would have been sufficient to see the Enniscorthy side retain the title, while North End needed a victory and all three points which would have seen them force a play-off against the same opponents. But the Cathedral town side were not content to sit back and play for a point as they finished the campaign in some style, being the dominant team for most of the 90 minutes.
Not only did North End fail to register a victory, they were clearly outplayed by the reigning champions, who were dominant in midfield where Chris Kenny, James Carty, Marty Kelly and Seán Kenny controlled the pattern of the game. Chris Kenny and Carty were particularly outstanding, as they continually drove their side forward in search of victory.
So the league-cup double dream no longer lives on for North End but they can have few complaints as they never looked like breaking down a resolute Rovers back four where the experienced central pairing of Garrett Larkin and David Whelan were in total command, while Lee Murphy was a safe pair of hands in goal.
The run of Rovers in going through the entire league campaign unbeaten is a fitting tribute to the side's compact style of play. Their composure and passing game are both excellent, while in John Hudson they have the ideal centre-forward whose goals kept them ahead of the chasing pack all season.
While North End have had a heavy programme over the past number of weeks with their usual backlog of games, it still cannot take from the achievement of Rovers who proved superior to anything that was thrown at them through the campaign.
Shamrock Rovers were not prepared to gamble on setting out their stall and play for a point as they showed their attacking intent from the opening minutes. After just three minutes John Hudson had a shot rise over the top, while three minutes later he just failed to get a touch to a low David Whelan ball across the face of the goal when the simplest of nudges would have steered it home.
North End had their big guns up front but after ten minutes Paul Murphy pulled an effort high and wide, while one minute later Murphy in the Rovers goal had to show his recovery action to turn and rescue a spilled shot from Jason Murphy.
Shamrock Rovers were forcing the game, with Hudson a constant threat up front, but with North End struggling to create a worthwhile attack, it was no surprise when the sides went in 0-0 at the interval.
North End had their best period during the opening 15 minutes on the resumption, but some stout defending from an excellent back four with full-backs Martin McKeown and Tony Sinnott also impressive kept them out as they defended three successive corner kicks.
The breakthrough eventually arrived in the 63rd minute and it was no real surprise when Hudson rose to a Marty Kelly free-kick to powerfully head beyond 'keeper Walker, making it 1-0.
North End now needed two goals to bring the league to a play-off but this was killed off in the 79th minute when James Carty moved unnoticed on the left to take full advantage of Walker's failure to deal with a Marty Kelly corner kick, driving an unstoppable shot to the net from an acute angle and securing his side's third title in a row.
North End United: Lee Walker, Warren Broaders (Lee Aust), Gareth McCurtain, Kieran Kelly, Keith Kearney, John Fenlon, Kyle Dempsey (Pa Beary), Shane Dempsey, Jason Murphy, Paul Murphy, Andy Moore (Adam Beary). Subs. not used: Alan Murphy, Alan Colgate.
Shamrock Rovers: Lee Murphy, Tony Sinnott, Garrett Larkin (Ricky Fox), David Whelan, Martin McKeown, Chris Kenny, Marty Kelly, James Carty, Seán Kenny, John Hudson (Mikey Dempsey), Emmet Quirke (Emmet O'Brien). Subs. not used: Ken Freeman, John O'Connor, Timmy Halpin, Pa Moorehouse.
Referee: Nicky Boland.