'Desire' gets Hoops draw
SHAMROCK Rovers boss Michael O'Neill says he hopes that the Hoops' Estonian opponents in the Champions League had some spies in Dublin last night to see a poor home display against Dundalk as the champions retained their leadership of the Premier Division thanks to a late equaliser.
The Rovers manager knows that his side will have to do a lot better against Flora Tallinn if they are to progress in Europe this season, Rovers coming from 2-0 down to sneak a draw which keeps them a point ahead of a St Pats side who, after last night's win away to Galway United, have dropped just two points from their last seven games.
A goal in each half from teenage striker Mark Griffin had given Dundalk an unexpected lead and though Rovers got back into the game with a 78th-minute strike from substitute Chris Turner, it needed an injury-time goal from Billy Dennehy to garner a point for a Rovers side which was, O'Neill admitted, sub par.
"If Flora had someone at the game last night they wouldn't have seen what we are capable of so that's no bad thing," O'Neill told the Herald after the 2-2 draw.
"The European thing is getting a lot of talk and exposure now, but we have three or four league games before that and that's where our focus is.
"We're disappointed, it was a poor performance. We didn't play well on the night -- played well in patches at times -- but we didn't apply ourselves properly from the start of the match and then we had to chase the game.
"We just looked in the first half as if only three or four of the players were at it and the application of the others was down.
"Our desire not to be beaten was enough to get us a draw. We showed enough character to come back and get a draw and you can't question that, but the players have to realise that they are there to be shot at and we have to make sure that, as the season progresses, we get used to that and become mentally tougher for that challenge.
"We reiterated that Dundalk would come with nothing to lose and raise their game coming to Tallaght -- which they did -- and we gave them a foot up in the game.
"We will look at the DVD today. You ask a lot of players, asking them to be at their maximum all the time and when you are playing at home as champions, with the expectation that's here, players have to deal with that, and maybe at times they struggle with that," added O'Neill.
And struggle is what Rovers did early on. They did create some chances -- Gary O'Neill had three goal attempts in the first 20 minutes -- but first blood went to Dundalk, local lad Griffin beating Alan Mannus on 23 minutes after the Rovers defence failed to deal with Keith Ward's pass.
The Rovers crowd sought a response while manager O'Neill made a change, hauling off captain Dan Murray 10 minutes into the second half to be replaced by Craig Sives.
However, the next goal was for the away side, Griffin getting his second of the night on 61 minutes with a header from Ross Gaynor's free kick.
Rovers got a lifeline on 78 minutes when Turner got on the end of Peter Cherrie's punched clearance, and two minutes from time Cherrie denied Ken Oman a certain goal with a point-blank save, but with seconds left of the three minutes of added time, winger Dennehy popped up with that late goal.
"It's disappointing to concede so late and only come away with a point but it was a wonderful performance," said Dundalk boss Ian Foster.
"I don't think any other team in the league would have the confidence to come here and play expansive football after a run of three defeats."