The much-heralded summer football season in the League of Ireland finally got off to a start in 2003. The change had been muted for years, resisted by traditionalists and constantly put forward by those seeking to address what seemed to them to be a terminal illness that simply had to be addressed.
Finally, in March 2003 the radical proposal for League of Ireland football came into practice. The season began for Shamrock Rovers with a 0-0 draw at home to Drogheda United. The second game, away to St. Patrick’s Athletic, also finished scoreless. In more than a sense though this wasn’t really an away game as the Hoops had agreed on a deal with the Saints for the use of the Inchicore venue for the season. The completion of the move to Tallaght Stadium was “imminent”, or so we were continually led to believe.
The early stages of the league campaign brought an OK type of start for the Hoops. In their opening half dozen games, they remained without defeat but were finding it hard to win games outright with just two wins and four draws. During the month of May, the Hoops played seven games, winning three, drawing one and losing three. One of those outings was away to UCD in the League Cup when they suffered a disappointing loss away to UCD.
With European football coming up in the month of June in the shape of a tie involving Polish side Odra Wodzislaw it was important for Liam Buckley’s side to get some continuity in good results. On this day, 6th June, D-Day, ‘D’ in this instance being for Drogheda, the Hoops travelled to O2 Park on Boyneside seeking to bounce back from a defeat away to Shelbourne the previous week. Drogheda weren’t having the best of it themselves either and needed the full three points in order to keep themselves from the bottom of the then ten-club Premier Division.
The following is the match report from the game taken from the Irish Independent of Saturday, 7th June:
Rovers Win in Dramatic Finale
An 89th minute goal by Glen Fitzpatrick gave Shamrock Rovers maximum points in a dramatic finale against Drogheda United last night at O2 Park.
Drogheda led for most of the match thanks to an early goal from Andy Myler but the home side collapsed in the closing stages and Rovers took full advantage scoring twice in the final ten minutes.
The home side snatched the lead against the run of play with the help of some calamitous defending from Rovers. Goalkeeper Barry Ryan and centre-back Terry Palmer collided as they tried to deal with (Gary) Roger’s long kick out and the ball broke to Andy Myler who side-footed into the empty net from 18-yards.
Palmer almost headed into his own net from Drogheda’s next attack as the Rovers’ defence was torn apart once more before a shot from Mark Quinless cannoned off Shane Robinson and looked to be heading into the net before Ryan dived to his left to make a full length save.
Rovers didn’t up the ante until the last quarter of the game and ten minutes from time, as Drogheda’s defence became increasingly ragged, Rovers finally made their pressure count when (Trevor) Molloy was left unmarked at the far post to volley home from a corner kick.
And with one minute of normal time remaining Fitzpatrick completed the comeback when he broke the offside trap before firing past Rogers.
Shamrock Rovers: Ryan, Gough, Keddy, Colwell, Palmer, McGuinness, Robinson, T. Grant, Fitzpatrick, Reynolds, S. Grant.
Referee: D. Hanney (Dublin)
Drogheda manager Harry McCue told the Drogheda Independent newspaper that the most disappointing aspect of the game for him had been the fact that his team did not put Rovers away when they had some clear opportunities to do so. They obviously didn’t learn that the game is not over until the final kick!
This win left Rovers in 2nd place behind leaders Shelbourne. The Hoops beat St. Pat’s 1-0 the following week when, yet again, a late goal decided the issue. On this occasion, it was Tony Grant who scored in the 86th minute.
Rovers failed to maintain their good form though and finished the season in 7th place but safely away from relegation.