Nine years awaiting, four years in the making, Shamrock Rovers finally got their hands on the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division trophy at Tallaght Stadium tonight.
Almost two weeks on from Rovers securing their 18th league title, and a week later than planned for the trophy presentation, Stephen Bradley's side celebrated their success following tonight’s scoreless draw with St Patrick’s Athletic.
In an era of instant expectation, Shamrock Rovers fans may have been eager to add to the two league wins that came at the start of the last decade, when Michael O’Neill's side landed back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.
But regarding long waits, the club’s loyal fans are quite the experts in such matters having held on for 22 years to secure a home stadium to call their own following the sale of Milltown in 1987, while the wait for the FAI Cup was 10 years longer again, as the Hoops eventually won the trophy last November for the first time since 1987.
So in terms of this nine-year stint without league honours, it would be categorised more in the sprint category than amongst long-distance affairs, although continuing in athletics parlance, there were times in those immediate years after O’Neill’s exit that the Rovers race was perhaps more akin to a steeplechase.
Neither Stephen Kenny nor Pat Fenlon could replicate their managerial magic when handed the Rovers top job, while Trevor Croly also came and went in the five-year period post O’Neill’s league double and Europa League group stage qualification.
The current manager of the club was perhaps propelled into the position a bit sooner than expected, as Bradley was working with the club’s emerging academy.
But the former player was given time to learn on the job and the belief in what was being conjured up behind the scenes with people like Stephen McPhail, Damian Duff, Glenn Cronin and Shane Robinson involved, was recognised by the board.
And over the course of Bradley’s tenure, the team have been improving year-on-year, while the football being played is the best that has been seen in the famous green and white Hoops in a generation, with comparisons drawn to the very best teams from the four-in-a-row era and the famous sides of the 1950s and 60s.
It all came to fruition at the end of the 2019 campaign with a Cup victory at the Aviva Stadium against Dundalk, and has continued into the 2020 season, where Rovers went unbeaten in the league with 12 wins and two draws to secure the title with four games remaining.
On a celebratory night for the champions, the spectacle failed to match the occasion; the game played out in from of an empty arena with a sprawl of supporters’ flag draped over the seats of the usually electric south stand.
Regarding the football on show, or lack thereof, it was the visitors who appeared the more eager to ignite some of their leftover Halloween fireworks, knowing that a point would make them mathematically safe from getting dragged into the relegation play-off place ahead of the final round of fixtures on Monday.
Rovers, in truth, only got going for the final 15 of the first half, coinciding with the introduction of Jack Byrne, who came on for the injured Graham Burke.
Goalscoring opportunities were few and far between with a Jordan Gibson header the closest the visitors came to scoring, while at the other end, Brendan Clarke had to make a double save from close range to keep the sides scoreless.
The move of the first half arrived just minutes before half-time when Aaron McEneff’s threaded throughball put Rhys Marshall in on the right.
The wing-back cut inside and attempted to curl the ball with his left foot into the far top corner, however, the execution was lacking the requisite whip and the ball sailed past the post.
Scoreless at the break, the visitors again started on the front foot with Georgie Kelly forcing a fine save from Alan Mannus in the 50th minute.
Rovers showed glimpses of their league-winning form with some neat one-touch football opening up the Saints at times, with Byrne pulling the strings; Liam Scales was impressing from the back, keeping Kelly quiet, while driving his side forward when in possession.
The game did open up throughout the second half with great chances at both ends, most notably for Gibson and Robbie Benson, who were both denied by Mannus, while Greene somehow conspired to miss a free header in front of the goal.
Meanwhile, Joey O'Brien received his marching orders for a second bookable offence, dragging Kelly back on the edge of the box, having already received a first-half yellow for a foul on the same man.
A chance to end all talk of an invincible season for Saints as they played out the final 20 with an extra man, but they were unable to create in the final third.
Rovers did have the ball in the back of the net, but Greene’s lobbed effort was deemed offside and that was as close as it got to breaking the deadlock with a share of the spoils a fair reflection of the contest.
Saints leave with a point and their Premier Division status intact for the 2021 season while remaining only one of two sides not to lose to the Hoops throughout the campaign.
Rovers are now just two matches away from an unbeaten season; something that has not happened in almost 100 years.
Two matches in three days next Saturday and Monday. But first, a chance for Ronan Finn to hoist the trophy with Rovers fans having to enjoy it virtually, courtesy of the RTÉ television cameras.