Shamrock Rovers stay third, if only level on points with Waterford, after Cork City gave up their hold on the title in an honourable manner on a chilly evening.

Rovers had most of the ball but did not create quite enough against a strong City defence, helping John Caulfield's men to a morale-boosting result ahead of a bigger test ahead.

Cork, their eyes on the FAI Cup semi-final replay Monday, made a raft of changes. In came young guns Shane Daly-Butz, Pierce Phillips, Cian Murphy and Ronan Hurley.

Tallaght Stadium looks better than ever, the third stand behind one of the goals all but finished. Yet it felt more like a deserted island in the first quarter of this game, with little to excite a muted home crowd – for all that Rovers were bossing in terms of the ball.

Finally, a chance arrived midway through the first half. A smart Sean Kavanagh cross eventually found Dan Carr but his drive met the head of young Ronan Hurley.

The lively Carr then looked for a penalty after appearing to be pushed by Pierce Phillips, yet few Rovers teammates protested Paul McLoughlin's decision not to give one.

Dylan Watts, busy, forced Cherrie into a comfortable save on 32 minutes. Cork had barely gotten into the final third of the pitch. Cherrie made a total mess of a harmless Carr cross that hung in the air on 37 minutes and he was fortunate that it was subsequently smuggled out of play.

Moments later Rovers should have gone ahead. Aaron Barry headed off the line after an unmarked Carr headed across to Aaron Greene, who really should have scored.

Watts was outstanding and his sublime ball to Carr saw the Englishman turn in-field and return the favour. Watts then lobbed over the Cork defence and Ronan Finn's excellent header saw Cherrie parry over, stretching.

The half ended with a whimper, Cork's more impressive players probably Aaron Barry and the younger brigade, with Kieran Sadlier completely out of sorts in a central role. He was replaced at the interval.

Cork offered nothing for the first hour but a slip from Roberto Lopes allowed an off-colour Barry McNamee through on goal; he dallied and Lopes managed to block.

Rovers were getting a little frustrated and Greg Bolger was forced to shoot from range after being set up by Finn; it fizzed over.

Greene went on a superb run on 70 minutes but he could not get enough power into his finish, Cherrie saving comfortably.

At the other end, a disappointing Ronan Coughlan blasted over after Cork broke with purpose. Then the speedy Murphy had his shot blocked at the back stick.

The game was now more open and Greene did brilliantly to square for Finn, who really should have scored but smashed over. Gearoid Morrissey, excellent after coming on at half-time, also off target minutes later.

The game seemed destined for a stalemate – though it might have been different, the excellent Sean Kavanagh curling one bound for the top corner in the last minute; Cherrie batted it out for a corner. He was later alert to pounce on Finn's close-range effort and had an excellent second half.

Cork can look back on a pretty comfortable last quarter, while Rovers will take the point and positives from yet another clean sheet.

Shamrock Rovers: Mannus, S Kavanagh, Lopes, Grace, Boyle, Constrain (Miele 72), Bolger, Finn, Watts (Bone 86), Greene, Carr (B Kavanagh 80).

Cork City: Cherrie, Hurley, Barry, Delaney,  Phillips, Murphy, McCormack, McNamee, Murphy, Daly-Butz (McCarthy 46), Sadler (Morrissey 46), Hurley, Coughlan (Cummins 79).

Referee: Paul McLoughlin (Monaghan).