Head to Head

Published in Hoops Scene, Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians (May 2011)

The 2010 season will be remembered not simply just for Shamrock Rovers’ league title win, their first since 1994, but for the head to head battle between Rovers and their rivals Bohemians for the title. During the tense run in to the seasons end, the two Dublin rivals swapped positions on top of the table with both having the title in their grasp only to throw it away. At one stage during the momentous last night of the season if scores stayed the way they were, Bohemians would have been champions. Thankfully, from a Rovers point of view, goals went Rovers’ way and they were the team that emerged top of the season’s final league table.

In the previous season, it was Bohemians that emerged as 2009 league champions. Rovers were behind Bohemians for most of that season only going top close to the end of the season. A defeat for Rovers by Cork in the penultimate home game of the season effectively ended that title challenge. The Hoops played the majority of their home games on a Saturday night that season while Bohs played Friday night. For the 2010 season, the club made the decision to switch to Friday nights which meant they would be going to head to head against Bohemians most weeks. This switch was welcomed by manager Michael O’Neill and players like Gary Twigg who noted “I prefer Friday as previously we were always playing catch up. Bohs playing on Friday and then you have to wait for our game Saturday.”

When the season began, it did so for Rovers without their talismanic striker. Twigg missed the first few games following surgery on his calf. Without the Scottish player, who had netted 24 league goals in the previous season, the Hoops struggled. Going into the first derby with Bohemians after six games, Rovers had a mere six points and trailed Bohs by eight. Twigg’s return on the bench that night in a match won by the Hoops thanks to Billy Dennehy’s first half header. The goalscorer reflected later on in the season how crucial his goal and that win was. “It was a great feeling with it being my first league goal here for Rovers,” said Dennehy. “Since then the team has really kicked on. That game turned around our season after a shaky start. We haven’t really looked back since.”

The following week was one of those crucial head to head nights when Rovers fans watched the match unfold on the pitch with one eye on their phone for text or livescore.com updates of Bohs’ progress. This became the norm as the season went on, so much so that it was commented from the stands during the FAI Cup Final that is was strange not to be wondering how Bohs were getting on. This night, and not for the last time during the season, Galway United were going to do Shamrock Rovers a big favour. With injury time looming and only a goal between Drogheda and Rovers in Hunky Dorys Park, news filtered through that Bohs had lost to an injury time goal away to Galway. Meanwhile second half substitute, Gary Twigg latched onto a through ball to round the keeper to score Rovers’ second goal and wrap up the game for the Hoops.

Both Bohs and Rovers would drop points to Louth sides at crucial times during the season. Within a fortnight, Bohs would lose at home to Dundalk on a night Rovers beat Bray. Then Rovers would lose away to Dundalk on a night Bohs beat Drogheda. The two clubs went head to head with a lunchtime kickoff at the end of May. The only talking point at the end of the dour 0-0 draw at Dalymount was events that occurred during the warm down after the game. The following week Bohemians would manage to pick up their only point against Galway United of the season when Rovers could only draw at home to Drogheda.

The European campaigns of Rovers and Bohs would shape the outcome of the domestic season. The question of how would the strains of European football affect both teams was in everyone’s mind. Bohs were up first in the Champions League qualifiers and went to Wales for the second leg following the 1-0 home win over TNS very confident. Meanwhile, Rovers had salvaged a 1-1 home draw against Israeli side Bnei Yehuda only thanks to an injury time goal. Incredibly, Bohs would be beaten 4-0 in the away leg in a shock defeat that would have financial repercussion for the 2010 season and beyond. The night following that defeat saw Shamrock Rovers win 1-0 in Tel Aviv to set up a dream Europa League tie against Italian giants Juventus. The only points Rovers would drop during the third quarter of the season would be between the first and second legs of the match against the bianconeri when the Hoops drew 3-3 against Sporting Fingal.

Having been eliminated from Europe by Juventus 3-0 on aggregate, Rovers returned to domestic action with the small matter of a game in Tallaght against Bohemians. They did so with words of support from Juve manager Luigi Del Nieri who concluded his post match press conference acknowledging “Shamrock Rovers are going to play a very important game next Sunday which is extremely important for their league. I wish you all the best of luck as the coach of Juventus and the whole team wishes you great luck with that match and the league which I hope you are going to win.”

If there is to be one game, one result or one performance that defined the league season for Shamrock Rovers then this game against Bohs was the one. The players had returned from Italy early on Friday morning and faced into a Sunday lunchtime kick off against Bohs. Captain Dan Murray put the Hoops in front before both sides hit the woodwork. Just coming up to the hour mark, Rovers were reduced to 10 men after Pat Flynn got sent off. Incredibly, Rovers scored two more goals through Twigg and Dennehy to cement Rovers’ place at the top of the league and save Pat Flynn’s blushes. The Ballybrack man commented after that sometimes for him “the red mist comes. The ball was there for a second. Something just clicked in my mind and I just kicked him. I thought we wouldn’t get a result. I thought Bohs would push on and get something out of the game. But the boys done well, when Bohs pushed on, we exploited the space and got two goals so I was delighted and also blessed!”

Following the defeat to Rovers, in Bohemians’ next game they lost 2-0 to Galway United at Dalymount Park on the night Rovers got an away win against Drogheda. By the time Rovers ended St. Pat’s title ambitions by coming from behind to win 3-1 in Inchicore, it seemed title sixteen was in the bag or so many thought but it wasn’t going to be that easy. The Rovers’ results would go into near meltdown after this game picking up only seven points from the remaining seven games. This run in began with a thoroughly forgettable night for the Hoops in Dundalk where they lost 5-1. Following a win against Galway, Rovers missed a penalty and conceded an 88th minute goal to lose 3-2 away to UCD on a night when Bohemians could only draw at home to Bray. The last Dublin derby of the season was in Dalymount and while it wasn’t quite winner takes all, it was vital for Bohemians to pick up a win which they did 1-0. With the league coming down to the wire, the fans, press and public were enthralled by the exciting conclusion to the league. Live TV was dictating the schedule of games and it meant on the third last day of the season, Bohs would go to Inchicore to play Pats at lunchtime with Rovers playing Sporting Fingal in Tallaght directly after. Former Rovers net minder Barry Murphy had an inspired day as he shut out Pats with Bohs winning 1-0. It was up to Rovers to match that result and it seemed they would do so as they led 1-0 with just three minutes to go. Incredibly, Fingal grabbed two goals, one from Gary O’Neill, to consign Rovers to defeat and the silence from the stands in Tallaght afterwards told the story that most Rovers fans felt the league title was gone.

But nobody had told Galway United as the following week when it was Bohs’ turn for late late heartbreak. The Bohs game was live on TV with Rovers kicking off slightly later against Drogheda so the Rovers fans were already aware that Bohs were 1-0 down prior to kickoff. Bohs got back into the game but incredibly managed to lose the game 3-2 conceding a goal in injury time. News of the Galway winner, spread like wildfire around Tallaght Stadium as the fans erupted in joy and the players were certainly made aware of how things had swung back in Rovers’ favour. However, the Hoops made heavy weather of beating Drogheda but goals from Stewart and Twigg made the difference in this game and would do so critically in the final game of the season.

For the final games Rovers travelled to Bray, who would be playing a relegation play off the following week. A point was all that would be needed to be Champions unless Bohs could put a hatful past Dundalk in Dalymount. Should have been easy then? Both matches were live on TV and had a simultaneous kick off. It was first blood to Bohs who went 1-0 up after only 12 minutes. And when Bray scored eight minutes later, it meant that if results stayed the way they were, it would be three in a row for Bohs. But Gary Twigg was not going to let that happen and he seemed the calmest man in the Carlisle Grounds after 41 minutes. He rounded the Bray keeper and nonchalantly nutmegged the Bray defender on the line with the outside of his trusty left boot to equalise for the Hoops. The Rovers fans nerves were eased when Twigg’s strike partner Thomas Stewart rounded a fine passing move one minute into the second half. This gave Rovers a 2-1 lead while Bohs had conceded and were now only drawing. But in the season that was in it, there was to be one further twist when Gary Shaw equalised for Bray after 70 minutes and Bohs went 2-1 up 10 minutes later. One further goal for Bray would be the end for Rovers title ambitions but the Hoops managed to hang on through injury time. Rovers fans swarmed onto the pitch to celebrate with the players. Nobody ever said winning the league would be easy but Rovers had managed to do it the very hard way. The league table does not lie and Rovers top of the table after a gruelling season were the best team in the league.

All photos by George Kelly

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