The new League of Ireland season began on Friday night and the early meeting of champions Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers proved as fiery as had been anticipated.
Depleted though they were by several injuries, Stephen Kenny’s side were nonetheless able to grind out the win thanks to goals from Robbie Benson and Ciaran Kilduff either side of half time.
The second half, however, (or the last fifteen minutes of it at least) was dominated by new Rovers signing Graham Burke. The former Aston Villa and Notts County forward was only introduced with twenty minutes remaining – replacing Roberto Lopes as visiting manager Stephen Bradey sought to claw something back – and his impact was felt almost instantly as he halved the deficit with a deflected effort that wrongfooted Dundalk keeper Gabriel Sava.
However, the 23-year-old threw away a lot of that goodwill just three minutes later for a disgraceful challenge on Jamie McGrath…
With McGrath already lying on the ground, Burke came flying in with a knee into his opponent’s back. The referee had no hesitation in sending him off, and Rovers were reduced to ten men for the last ten minutes of the game.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, the visitors very nearly secured an unlikely equlaiser. In the fourth minute of injury time, a weak free kick from Brandon Miele was nearly looped into the net courtesy of a David McAllister half volley, but the midfielder’s effort clipped the crossbar in what turned out to be the last kick of the game.
The new Premier Division season got the highly-entertaining season opener that it deserved, Shamrock Rovers leave Oriel Park wondering what might have been while the reigning champions open their defence with a win.