Greg Bolger’s late strike five minutes before the end broke Finn Harps hearts in Ballybofey as Shamrock Rovers went seven-points clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity League.
Finn Harps 0 Shamrock Rovers 1
Report by Shaun Keenan at Finn Park
Photos by North-West Newspix
Ollie Horgan admitted before the game it was going to be hard for his players to find a way past Shamrock Rovers but as he watched from the stands his well-drilled young side more than held their own against high-calibre opponents, begetting a couple of chances of their own.
Friday’s fixture was the only league match played on the night, with the rest of the Irish calendar postponed due to the extent of U21 call-ups at international level.
Rovers could have requested a postponement as they have a total of three of their players on international duty.
Nathan Boyle fed in Colm Deasy for the inviting-cross along the danger area but Alan Manus claimed adequately.
However, it was short-lived as Aaron Greene infiltrated the Harps defence before lacing one along the six-yard box, Dan Carr failing to capitalise as it was cleared for a fruitless corner kick.
Midway through the first half, the Rovers pressure-cooker continued as Watts, from the edge of the area, fired one from distance forcing Gallagher into action.
With Jack Byrne in Gibraltar with the Ireland senior squad and Brandon Kavanagh and Trevor Clarke involved in the U21 panel, Rovers resumed business as usual.
A sumptuous corner by Aaron McEneff from the right saw the ball played into the path of Watts free in space. The former Derry City playmaker opened up the best chance of the half but Watts couldn’t divert beyond Gallagher.
With the Donegal side nearing the break unscathed, Finn Park held their breath when Watts produced a sublime long ball to Greene but the former Bray Wanderers forward miscontrolled the ball to give Gallagher an easy collection.
An early warning was issued to Harps after the break, Greene unlocking Horgan’s defensive steel but the assistant referee, providing Harps with their get out of jail free card, ruled for offside.
The Ballybofey side has faltered in recent games, struggling to match the intensity and hard-nosed doggedness and it proved costly once more for Friday’s fixture.
It wasn’t for the lack of effort, in fact, Harps soaked up much of Rovers heavy influence.
But any anxieties Horgan harboured about his team switching off were realised in the 85th minute.
The Hoops began to turn the screw and it paid dividends when Greg Bolger’s effort from the edge of the 18-yard-box flew beyond Gallagher to send the boisterous Rovers faithful into a frenzy.
Regardless of the timetable, Bradley’s side demonstrated the determination required for title credentials.
FINN HARPS: Ciaran Gallagher; Colm Deasy, Daniel O’Reilly, Jacob Borg (Raf Cretaro 68), Kieth Cowan; Coalan McAleer, Nathan Boyle (Mikey Place 81), Mark Coyle, Sam Todd, John Kavanagh; Niall Logue
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Alan Manus; Roberto Lopez, Lee Grace, Greg Bolger, Dylan Watts; Ronan Finn, Dan Carr (Orhan Vojic 75), Aaron McEneff (Joel Coustain 65), Sean Kavanagh, Aaron Greene (Sam Bone 87); Joey ‘Brien
REFEREE: Derek Tomney