AIRTRICITY LEAGUE ROUND-UP: FEBRUARY 27
By Daire Walsh
It was another weekend of mixed emotions for the Kildare contingent in the Airtricity Leagues, which are finally up and running in both tiers for the 2018 season.
Gary Shaw and his Shamrock Rovers team-mates were hoping to bounce back from an opening day defeat to bitter city rivals Bohemians, when they hosted Dundalk at the Tallaght Stadium on Friday evening.
Before Cork City finally regained the top-flight title last year, Dundalk were indisputably the finest team in the land. With former Hoops boss Stephen Kenny at the helm, they claimed three consecutive league crowns – beginning with their dramatic final-day triumph in 2014.
The loss of players like Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Patrick McEleney has altered the outlook of their squad in recent years, though, and they were already playing catch on Cork as a result of their stalemate with Bray Wanderers seven days earlier.
They have drafted Kill’s Sam Byrne into their squad for the next six months – on a loan deal from Everton – and he was handed a debut in the Lilywhites’ opening game of the year. He marked absent for their latest visit to the south Dublin venue, but Shaw retained his place in the Rovers starting line-up.
Recently returned from an arm injury, Shaw played 69 minutes of the game – before eventually making way for Daniel Carr. Though a powerful Brandon Miele effort hit the inside of the post, it was a game that never quite lived up to its much-vaunted billing.
Dundalk had to settle for a sharing of the spoils for the second time in succession, while Rovers picked up their first point of the campaign.
Athy’s Rory Feely once again featured at right-back for the newly-promoted Waterford United, but they couldn’t build on their encouraging victory against Derry City when they made the journey to Turner’s Cross.
Second-half goals by Gearoid Morrissey and Garry Buckley determined the outcome of the contest, which was played in front of a crowd that in excess of 6,000. Despite picking up a yellow card, Feely completed the full 90 minutes for his new club.
Meanwhile, Paul Hunt (Clane) and Aaron Brilly (Kilcock) played for Cobh Ramblers and Athlone Town on the opening weekend of the new First Division season.
Hunt has been a key figure for Cobh in Stephen Henderson’s second stint at St Colman’s Park, and he was once against selected between the sticks for an away trip to Longford Town on Saturday.
Their opponents looked set for all three points when Chris Mulhall and Dean Zambra gave them a 2-0 cushion at the break. However, thanks to timely finishes by Andrew Wall and Cian Leonard after the resumption, they came away from City Calling Stadium with a morale-boosting draw.
Brilly was also handed a starting role in the Athlone back-row for an away assignment against Galway United. The hosts were always in control at Eamonn Deacy Park, though, as a Danny Furlong hat-trick sealed a comfortable 4-1 success.