In-form striker Jason Byrne proved his worth to Shelbourne tonight as his 26th minute volley sent them on the way to a 2-0 win over Cork at Tolka Park, seeing them to a third Premier Division title in five years. Two second-half goals for Drogheda against Bohemians may have settled the title race tonight but Byrne, signed last February, has almost single-handedly given the Drumcondra club the championship with an impressive haul of nineteen league goals.
Shelbourne’s collective of strikers scored just eighteen of their 44 league goals in the 2002/03 campaign and with fellow hit men Jamie Harris and Stephen Geoghegan scoring just ten between them this season, Byrne’s importance cannot be underestimated.
It was his namesake midfielder Stuart Byrne who had the first chance of tonight’s game against third-placed Cork City, with his left footed shot in the second minute, failing to trouble Cork ‘keeper Michael Devine from 20 yards.
A George O’Callaghan set piece gave City defender Derek Coughlan a glimmer of a headed chance four minutes later, as Pat Dolan’s men garnered much of the opening quarter’s possession. The returning Colin T O’Brien came inside the Shels’ cover, drawing Owen Heary before releasing Ryan Casey in the eighth minute, but the former Swansea midfielder unfortunately struck his shot off the home side’s near post, when a far corner placement could have given the visitors’ a lead.
Casey and Shels’ Richie Baker were involved in a skirmish on 18 minutes as a nervous opening from the Dublin outfit and some rough challenges nearly saw the game and a fidgety Dolan reach boiling point. Jason Byrne thought he had the game’s first goal on 17 minutes but the former Bray striker had strayed into an offside position when latching onto Harris’ knock down, before firing to the City net.
However, after a sustained period of Shelbourne pressure, Byrne did get his goal hammering home a dipping volley past Devine, following a mix-up between the Cork stopper and former Bohemians defender Coughlan. A misplaced header by Coughlan gave Byrne the chance to hit home his nineteenth of the season with ferocious power, with Devine left with little chance of saving it.
Byrne’s confidence was evidenced for the watching attendance when he tried a flashy overhead kick moments later, and a buoyant Shelbourne almost had a second with three minutes left in the first half, when Byrne’s header from a Baker cross almost nipped in at Devine’s near post. The three points looked secure when Harris, a summer signing by Pat Fenlon, twisted his body perfectly to head home Dave Rogers’ 50th minute cross.
The champions-to-be took their foot off the pedal for the remainder of the game, with the atmosphere peppered with shouts and cheers of news of Drogheda’s second-half turnover of Bohemians. Since November 4’s 3-1 loss to Bohemians, Pat Fenlon’s men have failed to capitulate and have won three and drawn one to see out a deserved title success.
Filed by Barry J Whyte