Report: Ryan McMullen

A frustrating evening for Shamrock Rovers as we exit the Sports Direct Men’s FAI Cup at the first hurdle.

Going into the game, Hoops boss Stephen Bradley made 4 changes from Tuesday’s defeat in Iceland. Alan Mannus returned between the sticksl as well as Lee Grace, Dylan Watts and Aaron Greene coming in for Leon Pohls, Markus Poom, Richie Towell and Ronan Finn.

Bradley was forced to make an early change as Rory Gaffney pulled up with an injury just four minutes in, Hoops striker Johnny Kenny came on to replace him.

It was Rovers who had the most of the play during the opening stages and their first chance fell to Kenny as he found himself in a one-on-one situation with Dundalk goalkeeper Nathan Shepperd following a through-ball from Graham Burke. Kenny’s initial effort rebounded back into his path after hitting the crossbar, however the striker was unable to guide his follow up effort below the crossbar. A let off for the Lilywhites.

Rovers would rue the missed opportunity minutes later as Dundalk took the lead midway through the first half. Hayden Muller reacted quickest to a breaking ball in the box before firing low past Mannus to give the home side the lead.

The Hoops were given a boost on the half hour mark when Dundalk midfielder Paul Doyle was shown a second yellow card for halting a counter attack meaning Rovers would hold a man advantage for the remaining 60 minutes of play as they searched for a route back into the tie.

As expected Rovers would go on to control much of the ball but couldn’t find a way past Shepperd in the Dundalk goal as the home side went in at the break a goal to the good. 

Rovers came flying out of the traps at the start of the second half, with Shepperd forced to thwart Kenny’s effort with Burke’s follow up attempt cleared off the line by Leahy. The Hoops were pushing hard and saw another opportunity come and go when Kenny failed to direct a header on target from a Sean Hoare’s cross.

Stephen Bradley introduced 16 year old Naj Razi (making his senior debut) in the closing stages in the search of a late goal, with the Academy star having an impressive cameo, but despite the persistent pressure the Hoops failed to find a breakthrough as the curtain came down on our cup campaign. 

It’s a quick turnaround for the Champions who will look to bounce back on Thursday when they travel to Budapest to take on Ferencváros in the UEFA Europa Conference League 2nd Qualifying Round, with kick off set for 7pm (6pm Irish time) in the Groupama Aréna.

Dundalk: Shepperd, Davies, Leahy, Boyle ©, Lewis (Sloggett 63’), Martin (Kelly 72’), Muller, McCourt (Brownlie 86’), Yli-Kokko (Malley 86’), Doyle, O’Kane (Elliott 86’).

Dundalk unused substitutes: Cherrie, Mayo, Byrne, Animasahun.

Shamrock Rovers: Mannus, Hoare (Burt 66’), Lopes ©, Grace, Cleary, Watts, Greene, Burke, Kavanagh (Towell 80’), O’Neill (Razi 80’), Gaffney (Kenny 4’)

Shamrock Rovers unused substitutes: Pohls, Finn, Poom, Cruise, Noonan.