By Killian McHale

Shamrock Rovers welcomed Derry City FC to Tallaght Stadium for our first home league game of the 2023 League of Ireland Premier Division season on Friday night but fell to a narrow 2-1 defeat to Ruaidhri Higgins’ side.

Stephen Bradley made two enforced changes to his side that drew 1-1 with Drogheda United a week ago, with Sean Kavanagh & Sean Gannon coming in for the suspended Lee Grace & Dan Cleary in the heart of the Rovers defence.

It took a while for both sides to settle into the game, and despite Dylan Watts flashing the ball wide of Brian Maher’s goal early on, neither side could create any clear-cut opportunities in the opening period of the game.

Neil Farrugia had the first real chance of the game after 13 minutes but was denied by Derry City captain Patrick McEleney as Farrugia was just about the shoot. And this came at a cost for Rovers, as 5 minutes later the visitors found the breakthrough.

It started from a Rovers corner that Derry cleared, before starting a devastating counter-attack from new Candystripes man Ollie O’Neill who raced into the Rovers half, before playing in Ben Doherty who fired beyond Alan Mannus to break the deadlock after 18 minutes.

This opener sprung the Hoops into life, and they did just that nine minutes later when Johnny Kenny opened his account for his new club with a thunderous effort in front of the South Stand after a perfectly weighted through-ball from Markus Poom from the Rovers midfield.

Rovers pushed on from this equaliser, and almost went into the half-time break in-front, only for Brian Maher in the Derry goal to deny both Graham Burke and Trevor Clarke with his feet. Both sides shared possession, but couldn’t find a lead goal as they went in at the break all square.

Rovers started brighter of the sides in the second period and could have gone ahead when Johnny Kenny blocked down a Brian Maher clearance in the opening minutes of the half, only for the ball to run out of play before Kenny could get proper control of the ball.

And after 54 minutes, the hosts regained the lead through Jamie McGonigle against the run of play. Ryan Graydon raced down the Rovers wing, before pulling back to Jamie McGonigle who struck his effort into the Rovers net from 12 yards to give his side the lead once more.

The visitors looked to extend their lead, with Patrick McEleney forcing Alan Mannus into a clever save on the hour mark.

With time pushing on, Rovers were finding it difficult to break through the stubborn Derry City defence. It took until the 80th minute for the Hoops to have their next real opportunity, when Markus Poom had an effort blocked by the Derry defence, before moments later he had a header that was again blocked by the now busy Derry defence.

Substitute Rory Gaffney came inches away from equalising for Rovers in injury time, only for his shot inside the penalty area to fire narrowly over the Derry City crossbar.

That was as close as it came for Rovers, as Derry City held out to inflict Rovers’ first defeat of the season – and becoming the first team to defeat Rovers in Tallaght Stadium in almost two years.

The Hoops return to action quickly, as Stephen Bradley’s side welcomes newly-promoted Cork City to Tallaght Stadium on Monday evening. Kick-off in the D24 venue is at 8 pm.

Shamrock Rovers: Mannus ©; Gannon, O’Neill, Kavanagh (80’ Hoare); Farrugia, Watts (80’ Burt), Poom, Clarke; Byrne, Burke (74’ Power), Kenny (74’ Gaffney).

Shamrock Rovers Unused Subs: Leon Pohls, Aaron Greene, Darragh Nugent, Richie Towell, Kieran Cruise.

Derry City: Maher; Coll, Connolly, S.McEleney, Doherty; Diallo (78’ McEneff), P.McEleney ©, Graydon (86’ C.Kavanagh), Patching, O’Neill (80’ B.Kavanagh); McGonigle (80’ Boyce).

Derry City Unused Subs: Tadhg Ryan, Matthew Ward, Evan McLaughlin, Tiernan McGinty, Liam Mullan.

Attendance: 7,626.