Rory Gaffney inspires Shamrock Rovers as they take control of cases against Hibernians – The Irish Times
Shamrock Rovers 3 Hibernians 0
Shamrock Rovers went from supreme control of this Champions League qualifier to looking nervous and open on counter-attacks, to riding their luck as Rory Gaffney avoided what looked like a certain red card before starting and to complete a delicious third goal, which should guarantee a safe passage. in the next round of Europe’s elite competition for the first time in 10 years.
In short, the 7,019 spectators got their money’s worth.
Rovers have taken and passed this exam several times; the stalwart Maltese champions came to the Tallaght stadium with two defensive blocks, intent on frustrating the hosts while hoping lone striker Jurgen Degabriele could steal a goal.
First, Pico Lopes was laser-focused all night, so Degabriele gave up on that ghost long before its time. Lopes treated the Malta international like a yo-yo until great Terence Groothusen’s second-half cameo threatened a smash and grab result.
Rovers are built for such a proposition, with the loss of Danny Mandroiu to Lincoln City and Jack Byrne’s calf problem unable to disrupt the fluidity of their offense. They can thank Dylan Watts for providing a creative advantage, as the attacking midfielder threatened from inside left, allowing Andy Lyons to continue his impressive conversion at left-back.
Lyons was indeed a high pressing winger, doing damage in the build-up to Ronan Finn’s goal after 24 minutes of constant probing. It was Rovers textbooks as one rear wing created space for Gaffney’s daisy cutter to find Finn, the other rear wing, at the back post.
Hibernians tightened to avoid a rout, but Rovers were keen to kill this business on both legs before an arduous journey, via Shannon, to the Mediterranean tax haven next Tuesday.
Gaffney held his end of the bargain. The lanky centre-forward continued to show and receive balls into the inside right channel, prompting Aaron Greene and Watts to make late runs into the box.
A second, third and even a fourth goal seemed inevitable against such a disorganized visiting side, so obviously mired in pre-season and unable to keep possession beyond three assists.
Sure enough, when Finn picked Gaffney’s last run and retired, Watts scored a second goal five minutes before halftime.
And that seemed to be it. Hibs manager Stefano Sanderra is serving a sideline ban, for an incident at the end of last season, but the Italian made an interesting change at the break by introducing Groothusen.
The Aruba striker, fresh off a brace against St. Maarten in the Concacaf Nations League, planted his massive frame above Lopes, but an easy guess this Amsterdam-born giant was playing the wrong Sport were silenced by a pretty-two with Degabriele before breaking away from Lopes and hammering a shot into the crossbar from Alan Mannus.
Truckers quickly realized that the solution to Aruba’s problem was to protect possession at all costs. But the natural flow of play had been interrupted as Degabriele dove deep to throw a Hail Mary for Thaylor to thwart Lee Grace and hit a low shot into Mannus’ post.
Leading 2-0 at home looked like a perilous position for the remaining 25 minutes.
Rovers’ entire European campaign seemed to hang in the balance when Gaffney was tackled to the ground by Gabriel Izquier Artiles in the 69th minute. Clearly a cynical foul, the Tuam native appeared to kick the Spaniard in the face.
“I definitely caught it, I didn’t want to,” Gaffney said. “I thought he was on top of me and I was trying to get him out of me but he obviously dragged me to the ground. I’ve been kicked out once in my life and never wanted to kick him I guess I kicked him but I didn’t come out to kick him in the face, not 2-0 anyway. If I was down 2-0, maybe.
Danish referee Morten Krogh, who witnessed the incident from close range, showed two yellow cards. Such conservative officiating will infuriate Hibs, especially as Gaffney slipped in from the left wing and took advantage of Aidomo Emakhu’s brilliant back heel to net a valuable third goal.
SHAMROCK ROVER: Mannus; Hoare, Lopes, Grace; Finn (Gannon, 81 min), Watts (Towell, 81 min), O’Neill, McCann, Lyons; Greene (Emakhu, 67 mins), Gaffney (Ferizaj, 85 mins).
HIBERNIANS: Koné; Grech (Caruana, 81 mins), Llerna Bravo, Rodolfo Soares, Izqier Artiles, Zerafa (Soares Fonseca, 90 mins); Thaylor (Attard, 81 min), Vella, Dialite, Mensah (Groothusen, ht); Degabriele.
Arbitrator: Morten Krogh (Denmark).