By Killian McHale
Shamrock Rovers welcomed Cork City to Tallaght Stadium for our first Monday-night fixture of the 2023 League of Ireland season, as both sides played out a thrilling 4-4 draw.
Rovers opened the scoring through Rory Gaffney early on, before two-quick fire goals just before the break saw the visitors lead at half-time. Lee Grace equalised for the Hoops before the visitors regained their lead once again and extended that lead even further to make it 4-2. Substitutes Simon Power & Sean Hoare were the saviours for Rovers to earn the Hoops a point late on in Tallaght.
Stephen Bradley made four changes to his side from Friday’s defeat against Derry City, with Dan Cleary, Lee Grace, Darragh Nugent, and Rory Gaffney all coming into the side.
Rovers started the stronger of the sides and deservedly opened the scoring after 13 minutes through Rory Gaffney. Gary O’Neill’s initial shot inside the Cork box was saved by Jimmy Corcoran in the Cork goal, before falling to Gaffney, whose shot was saved once more by Corcoran, before the ball fell to the feet of Gaffney, and the Tuam man fired home on the third attempt to break the deadlock in Tallaght.
Chances were coming thick and fast between the sides, with Dylan Watts striking a free-kick off the Cork City crossbar before Matt Healy struck a free-kick of his own for the visitors just wide of Alan Mannus’ left-hand post in front of the South Stand.
Moments after Healy’s effort, City found the equaliser. Former Hoop Aaron Bolger played Cian Bargary down the right-wing, before Bargary’s cross found Ruairi Keating at the front post and Keating fired home to level the scoring.
Within four minutes of this, it was the visitors who took the lead, when Darragh Crowley scored from all but 40 yards after a loose clearance fell to the City academy graduate and his lobbed effort found the back of the Hoops net to give the Rebel Army the lead at half-time.
Rovers began the second-half stronger, and found the equaliser after 54 minutes when Lee Grace headed home a Jack Byrne corner.
Most of the home supporters hoped Rovers would push on from here, but just four minutes later, the Hoops found themselves behind once more when City substitute Kevin Custovic poked home from close range after a scramble in the Rovers box from a Matt Healy free-kick.
Things went from bad to worse for Rovers when City scored a fourth after 70 minutes. Cian Bargary raced down the left-wing before his dangerous cross was picked up by Darragh Crowley at the back-post, as he fired underneath the on-rushing Mannus to net his second, and City’s fourth of the night.
In an attempt to get back into the game, Stephen Bradley made full use of his ever-strong substitutes bench, introducing Graham Burke, Simon Power, Sean Hoare & Richie Towell during the second period as the Hoops searched for a way back into the game.
After Dan Cleary had a headed effort rebound off the City crossbar, and Corcoran in the visitor’s goal pulled off some outstanding saves, it looked like it wasn’t going to be Rovers’ day, until Simon Power gave the Hoops some hope when the pacey winger tapped home from close range with 6 minutes of normal time remaining.
Moments after this, there was a lengthy stoppage in play, after a bad clash of heads between Trevor Clarke & Aaron Bolger, which forced the City midfielder to be stretchered off the field.
This stoppage in play forced referee Rob Harvey to add on ten minutes of additional time, and it was another substitute in Sean Hoare who saved the day for the reigning champions, as he headed home a loose ball from a Jack Byrne corner in the 98th minute to level the scoring late on.
The action didn’t stop there, as Trevor Clarke had an effort from the edge of the City box that fired just wide of the visiting goal, much to the relief of the away supporters.
Rob Harvey brought the game to a close shortly after as both teams shared the spoils in an incredible night in Tallaght.
Rovers, still looking for their first win of the season, make the short journey to Tolka Park this coming Friday (10th March) to take on Shelbourne FC.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Cleary, O’Neill (72’ Hoare), Grace ©; Nugent (46’ Farrugia), Watts (74’ Towell), Poom (57’ Burke), Clarke; Byrne, Gaffney, Kenny (64’ Power).
Shamrock Rovers Unused Substitutes: Leon Pohls (GK), Sean Gannon, Sean Kavanagh, Liam Burt.
Cork City: Corcoran; Walker (38’ Custovic) (89’ Hakkinen), Coleman ©, Gilchrist, Honohan; Bolger (94’ Winbo), Healy, Crowley; Bargary, Keating, Krezic (64’ Varian).
Cork City Unused Substitutes: Aaron Mannix (GK), Tunde Owolabi, John O’Donovan, Cian Murphy, Joe O’Brien Whitmarsh.