North heads in right direction
AN ANGLO-French alliance won out in a real Dublin derby as Shamrock Rovers gave an early indication that they will be involved in the hunt for honours this season.
The RTé cameras and a healthy crowd came along to Tallaght Stadium for Opening Night of the 2015 season. Sadly, it was an uninvited guest - a strong wind - which had a big impact and detracted from a lot of the enjoyment, the power of that gale making it very difficult for either team to get into their stride.
The wind played a part in the only goal of the game but credit to the Rovers debutants, Max Blanchard and Danny North, for showing composure to combine for the winning goal on 17 minutes.
Frenchman Blanchard, lured to Dublin by Pat Fenlon after spells in England and Scotland, was alert enough to pick up on a goal kick from Saints man Brendan Clarke and the import zapped the ball into the path of English-born striker North, who did well to control the ball and work his shot around the body of Clarke with a good finish on a dream debut for the ex-Grimsby man.
North has played in red and white, with St Pats and Sligo Rovers, since his move to Ireland but a spell in green and white seems to suit the forward.
Ahead of the new season, one of the reasons for doubting Rovers' title credentials was a fear of where their goals would come from. While they are still light up front - Fenlon would like to sign another forward, if possible - North seems settled in already.
A key decision here last night was Rovers' fortune in playing with the wind in that first half, and a shot from Patrick Cregg on eight minutes was an early sign of their threat.
Pats did manage to combat the wind on 10 minutes when Conan Byne got his head to Christopher Forrester's cross but Craig Hyland saved, and within minutes Rovers had that lead goal from North.
The away side, with ex-Hoops Jason McGuinness and Ciarán Kilduff in the side for their debuts, can play some stunning football on their day. But this was just not their night.
Gary McCabe almost added a second for Rovers midway through the second half, while just before the break left back Luke Byrne set up a chance for Cregg, the new enforcer in the Rovers midfield, but Clark in the Saints' goal did well to save.
Even with the wind at their backs in the second 45 minutes Pats looked to be at odds with the conditions and they never really worked rookie keeper Hyland.
There was some late panic when Kilduff struck the crossbar in added time but before Pats could pounce on the rebound, referee Dave McKeon had blown for offside.
Pats will be using a youth policy in 2015 more so than in previous seasons and that was evident with the action from the bench, as youngsters Jamie McGrath, Lee Desmond and Darragh Markey were all introduced for their league debuts.
Desmond - a signing from Shelbourne - was hoping to catch the eye of Ireland U21 boss Noel King, who was in the Tallaght crowd, ahead of next week's squad announcement for an U21 qualifier against Andorra. But it was the old heads of the Hoops who won out on the night as they secured a big win.
Suspensions, carried over from last season, meant that senior Rovers players Keith Fahey, Stephen McPhail, Barry Murphy and brothers Ryan and Gavin Brennan all watched from the stands, but as they return to the fold in the coming weeks, the Hoops can only get stronger. Their task for 2015 made slightly easier by this first-night win.
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