Report: Ryan McMullen

It was a frustrating evening for Rovers as they fell short to Shelbourne at Tolka Park.

Despite a significant amount of injuries, Hoops boss Stephen Bradley was boosted by the return of Richie Towell, Graham Burke and Johnny Kenny to the matchday squad for the first time in 2024. Bradley opted to make 3 changes to the team that started last week’s league opener with Lee Grace, Darragh Nugent and Dylan Watts all coming into the side in place of Markus Poom, Conan Noonan and the injured Neil Farrugia.

There was an early scare for Rovers after just three minutes of play when referee Rob Harvey adjudged Lee Grace to have fouled Paddy Barrett in the penalty area following a Tyreke Wilson corner. Replays would suggest it was perhaps on the soft side but the Hoops would be given a reprieve when Tyreke Wilson’s effort failed to hit the target.

That let-off would prove short-lived however as minutes later, the home side took the lead. When the Hoops failed to deal with a corner adequately, the ball fell to Shels captain Mark Coyle at the edge of the box who was afforded too much time to pick his spot past Pohls to break the deadlock.

At this point, the momentum was firmly with the home side, who continued to enjoy the better of the opportunities, with Pohls forced into a reflex save with his foot to deny John O’Sullivan.

On 25 minutes, the Hoop’s rearguard was breached once again when a long kick out from Conor Kearns found Will Jarvis who nipped in between Dan Cleary & Josh Honohan, drove inside the box and finished past Pohls to double the home side’s advantage.

Rovers responded. At the other end, Josh Honohan headed a Dylan Watt’s free-kick back across the goal, where Sean Hoare directed a volley goalward, however, Kearns was in the right place to gather.

Rovers continued to search for a way back into the game and they came close after Darragh Burns was picked out by a clever ball by Dylan Watts but the Stamullen man saw his effort drop just over the upright.

Burns – one of the Hoops’ off-season signings – looked very lively in the first half and he had another chance just past the half-hour mark. Skillfully finding an opening on the edge of the box, the winger decided to have a crack on goal but his strike went just wide of the left post.

Rovers were forced into making a change when Sean Hoare picked up a knock, with Graham Burke coming on in his place. This saw a reshuffle in the ranks, with Honohan reverting to a back three and Nugent moving to right wing-back.

Burke almost had an immediate impact too when he picked up a loose ball in the Shelbourne box and attempted to chip Conor Kearns but the retreating Paddy Barrett headed clear off the line to keep the Hoops at bay.

The Hoops would go in at the break trailing 2-0 to a well-organised Shelbourne side and Stephen Bradley opted to make a further change ahead of the second half with Estonian international Markus Poom introduced at left wing-back in place of Sean Kavanagh

Rovers came flying out of the traps in the second half with a sense of urgency in their play and were rewarded after just four minutes when Graham Burke put a sublime ball across the face of the goal that Rory Gaffney guided home to half the deficit.

Dylan Watts had impressed throughout and came close to putting the game level but he was denied by the woodwork after firing a strike towards goal.

The game was starting to open up and at the other end, Pohls was forced into two quickfire saves to keep the Hoops in touching distance. Firstly, he palmed away a well-struck, long-range effort from Mark Coyle before impressing once again when he turned a Shane Farrell strike behind for a corner.

In the 78th minute, Aaron Grene forced Kearns to make a super save after his close-range volley looked destined to hit the back of the net, but the Shels ‘keeper made himself big to deny the Hoops striker.

Six minutes of additional time were added at the end of the game and during that time, Rovers were unlucky not to find an equaliser that their second-half play deserved. Rory Gaffney tried to place his shot that he took from the right-hand side of the box into the far corner of the net but Kearns in goal, again, made a superb stop. Gaffney’s lofted ball into the box was palmed away by Kearns and later hooked clear by Hakiki, marking the final action with Rob Harvey bringing the game to a close.

A frustrating night for Rovers who would be left to rue their first-half performance but will ultimately have left Tolka Park disappointed with not having taken something from the game.

Stephen Bradley’s side will look to register their first victory of the season when they welcome Drogheda United to Tallaght next Friday 1st March, with kick-off set for 8 pm.

Shelbourne: Kearns, Gannon, Wilson, Ledwidge, Molloy, Barrett, Lunney (Hakiki 90+2’), Coyle ©, O’Sullivan (Caffrey 53’), Smith (Martin 66’), Jarvis (Farrell 66’).

Shelbourne unused substitutes: Healy, Ward, Williams, Temple, Cailloce.

Shamrock Rovers: Pohls, Honohan, Cleary (Greene 72’), Hoare (Burke 36’), Grace ©, Kavanagh (Poom 46’), O’Neill, Watts, Burns, Nugent (Kenny 78’), Gaffney.

Shamrock Rovers unused substitutes: Steacy, Leitis, Barrett, Towell, Noonan.

Referee: Rob Harvey