Pre-season predictions suggested it would be the sheer strength of their roster that would allow Shamrock Rovers to retain their title.
The value of a strong bench to provide an alternative in times of need was shown in the battle against Sligo Rovers as the champions were able to reverse an extremely dismal first-half performance and field four substitutes at the break. and then winning what looked like a losing proposition with two goals within two minutes from one of those substitutes, Graham Burke – who also had time to score a third goal.
Those 45 minutes were one of the Hoops’ worst football shows since Stephen Bradley took charge and a change was needed. Bradley was ruthless, pulling off Gary O’Neill, Neil Farrugia, Aaron Greene and Aidomo Emakhu at halftime. After failing to land a shot on target that first half, Burke scored three goals in the span of 14 minutes.
At least one of the seven changes on his side was forced on Bradley through injury, but it’s safe to assume some of his selection decisions were voluntary given Friday’s top-flight clash with Derry City.
Squad rotation almost backfired, however, as the squad players who suffered a runout in the green and white hoops did nothing to earn their inclusion in a very flat first half.
Sligo keeper Ed McGinty’s failure to win his fitness battle meant a rare start for veteran Richard Brush, but even that opening was not capitalized on by the champions until the substitutes turned the tide.
They didn’t have a single try on Brush’s goal for the first 45 minutes, little possession and no final score when they had the ball.
It was Sligo who would be far more likely to score – that was unexpected given Liam Buckley’s men were so far off pace on their most recent trip to Dublin, in last Friday’s 2-1 defeat by Shelbourne.
They were already dangerous in the ninth minute – McCourt with good work on the left and a good cross into the box that Max Mata just missed.
After 18 minutes, Mata was in possession and in a good position. The Hoops need a strong tackle from Sean Hoare to smother that attack.
Sligo have already taken points from the tires twice this season but they were dead in the water within ten minutes of the restart as the changes worked their magic. A slip by Sligo’s Colm Horgan in the 54th minute gave the home side possession. Sub Andy Lyons fed Jack Byrne and Burke made no mistake with the finish. Two minutes later, Ireland’s cap Byrne’s release from a poorly executed Sligo attack found its way to another sub, Rory Gaffney, and his pass found the unmarked Burke with oceans of space to find his spot and shoot past Brush .
Burke wasn’t done with a third goal from him in the 68th minute. Another Hoops sub – Andy Lyons – played a pass to Burke, who struck again unmarked as Brush was unprotected.
Sligo had an answer, Aidan Keena – another player called from the bench on a night when the substitutes took over the talking – pounced at the end of a counter-attack to score his first goal since March. Such a clinical finish in the first half when they had the initiative could have given the away side a different result but in the end, despite a late Sligo frenzy when they hit the post in injury time, it will be the home fans in the Crowd of 3,066 do See this as a very good night’s work the Hoops are now a point ahead of Derry who meet at Tallaght on Friday night.
Shamrock Rover – mannos; Hoare, Lopes, Kavanagh; sapwood; O’Neill (Burke 46), Watts, Farrugia (McCann 46); Byrne (Towell 75); Emakhu (Lyon 46), Greene (Gaffney 46).
Sligo Rover – McGinty; Banks, Buckley, Pijnaker, McCourt; bolger; Horgan (O’Sullivan 80); McDonnell (Morohan 86), Keogh (Fitzgerald 61); Hamilton (Keena 61), Mata (Heaney 61).
REF- D Tomney.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/league-of-ireland/super-sub-graham-burke-sets-benchmark-for-hoops-victory-41632563.html Super sub Graham Burke sets benchmark for Hoops win