The familiar booming sounds blared around Tolka Park as the new First Division season kicked off with hosts Shelbourne welcoming their visitors from Donegal, Finn Harps.
Both sides came into this fixture after mixed results in pre-season and were hoping to start their campaign with a vital three points. However, after an entertaining 99 minutes (the nine minutes were added due to a lengthy stop in play) with numerous chances on goal and, at times, tempers flaring, it was to end with both sides earning a point that left them sitting two points behind surprise early league leaders, Cabinteely.
It was all Shelbourne in the opening 25 minutes. The home side controlled the game and kept possession neatly but couldn’t manage to put away any of their early chances.
Striker Philly Hughes will be scratching his head and thinking how he didn’t manage to score at least one goal in this game. In reality, he could have had a hat trick coming off the pitch at full time after numerous attempts on goal.
Hughes was denied a place on the score sheet by an impressive Ciaran Gallagher. The striker was gifted the ball beautifully several times and had plenty of space but his efforts went directly into the hands of Gallagher.
Finn Harps also had a few attempts on goal. Their best effort in the first half lay at the feet of Tony McNamee. The forward was gifted the ball with a fine cross from captain Michael Funston but his effort was palmed away by a super save from Shels keeper Greg Murray.
Harps also had a chance in the second half to steal the win. Regan Donelon’s corner was met by the head of Tommy McMonagle but his effort was cleared off the line.
The last 15 minutes of normal time saw tempers flare between the sides. There was a nasty clash of heads between Shelbourne’s Paul Andrews and Harp’s Raymond Foy. The former of the two came out worse for wear and had to be replaced by Simon Dixon.
The replacement didn’t last long on the pitch. The defender seemed to be knocked unconscious after another clash of heads and medical staff spent several minutes on the pitch before taking Dixon off on a stretcher.
The nasty injury didn’t extinguish the flames though as Harp’s substitute Wilfried Togbo fouled a Shels player, almost immediately after play resumed right in front of the home side’s dugout and got in to a small scuffle with a member of Shels’ backroom staff.
Manager Kevin Doherty’s programme notes were entitled “A Fresh Start.” While his side should have put away their chances, he will upbeat by their performance and will look towards what he surely hopes will be a successful season for the Tolka Park side.
For Finn Harps, they should be heaping the praise on goalkeeper Gallagher. The youngster will be happy in the knowledge that he kept his side in the game and that he kept a clean sheet despite an onslaught from Hughes early in the game.
Shels will now look towards their next fixture, an away trip to Drogheda on Tuesday night in the EA Sports Cup. Meanwhile, Finn Harps will be on the road again for their next game, also in the EA Sports Cup, against Galway United on Monday night in Eamon Deacy Park.
SHELBOURNE: Murray, O’Connor (Doyle 67′), Osam, Heaney, Andrews (Dixon 77′, Kehoe 86′), Crowe, Coughlan, Walsh (C), Hughes, Keegan, Earley
Substitutes: Ryan, Sandford, Donnelly, O’Sullivan
Yellow Cards: Coughlan (97′), Hughes (99′)
FINN HARPS: Gallagher, McNulty, Crossan (Togbo 67′), Cowan, McMonagle, Foy, Funston (C), Mailey, Keating, McNamee (McGroary 60′), Doneglan (O’Callaghan 76′)
Substitutes: McCarron,Black, McHugh, Friel
Yellow Cards: Cowan (43′)
Referee: John McLoughlin