By Glenn Mason
Shamrock Rovers are all-Ireland champions once again after a crushing 7-1 victory over Drogheda United in the Setanta Cup final in Tallaght.
Drogheda were way off the pace from the beginning and their defensive errors were clinically punished by a side finally coming into form.
James Chambers, Sean O’Connor and Karl Sheppard had Rovers out of sight at the break.
A quick double from Ronan Finn put them five up before the hour mark as Drogheda fell asunder.
Gary O’Neill did manage to tap in a consolation for the two-time Setanta Cup winners, but Billy Dennehy scored twice late on to complete the rout.
All cup final defeats carry a large amount of disappointment, but the hurt and embarrassment from this performance will linger for a long time for the Drogheda players.
They gifted Shamrock Rovers several of their goals and it took them almost an hour to register a notable effort on target.
For their part, Rovers were dominant in all areas and could have been even further ahead at the break but for a number of saves from Drogheda keeper Gabriel Sava.
The victory and performance will be a significant boost to Trevor Croly’s side, who will hope to carry on this form into their stuttering league campaign.
Drogheda made two changes from the side that lost to St Patrick’s Athletic last week, with Brian Gannon starting at right-back and O’Neill getting the nod up front ahead of Declan O’Brien.
Dennehy returned to the Rovers starting line-up in place of Gary McCabe.
Any chance Drogheda had of settling into the game went inside the first 15 minutes as two goals in as many minutes left Mick Cooke’s side reeling.
There was more than a touch of good fortune involved as Rovers took the lead on 12 minutes. Gavin Brennan’s attempted headed clearance from O’Connor’s cross struck Chambers on the head and rebounded back over Sava into the corner.
Before Drogheda had time to steady things, O’Connor fired low past the keeper at the near post to double the lead.
Drogheda were on the ropes and Sava kept the score down on the half hour as he kept out Jason McGuinness’s header and O’Connor’s bouncing shot moments later.
Very heavy hail and rain showers made an already wet pitch even slicker, leading to several mistimed tackles and contributing to six first half bookings.
Rovers moved out of sight just before the break as Drogheda were caught square at the back.
Finn was given too much space to slide Sheppard through and the striker calmly slotted the ball home.
A brief rally after the break from Drogheda saw Cassidy force Barry Murphy into his first serious save, but they fell apart as man-of-the-match Finn grabbed two more goals before the hour mark.
His first was a fine low strike that Sava got a hand to but could only push onto the post and into the net. The second came after he twisted and turned into space in the box and beat Sava low to his right.
Drogheda showed some spirit after the hour mark and O’Neill turned in Gavin Brennan’s cross on 67 minutes after David Cassidy’s header had hit the bar earlier in the move. But that was as good as it got for the Drogs.
Dennehy fired home twice from tight angles in the 74th minute and again in the 88th to compound Drogheda’s woes.
The only sour point for Rovers was an injury to striker Mark Quigley, who was taken off as a precaution less than 20 minutes after coming on as a substitute.
It was not enough to dampen the celebrations of the first trophy under Croly.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava, Brian Gannon (Alan McNally 73), Derek Prendergast, Alan Byrne, Shane Grimes; Graham Rusk (Declan O’Brien 60), Ryan Brennan, David Cassidy, Michael Daly (Paul O’Conor 60), Gavin Brennan; Gary O’Neill.
Subs not used: Michael Schlingermann, Stephen Quigley, Philip Hand, Cathal Brady.
Booked: Daly, Cassidy, Gavin Brennan, Prendergast, Gannon, Ryan Brennan.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy, Pat Sullivan, Derek Foran, Jason McGuinness, Daniel Ledwith; Sean O’Connor (Ciaran Kilduff 72), Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice, James Chambers, Bill Dennehy; Karl Sheppard (Mark Quigley 60 (Gary McCabe 78)).
Subs not used: Richard Brush, David Elebert, Shane Robinson, Conor McCormack.
Booked: Rice, Sullivan.
Referee: Rob Rogers.