Shamrock Rovers lifted the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title in the most characteristic of fashions this evening; ending the season with yet another late, late win – this time at the expense of Drogheda United.
Graham Burke's second-half double prevented Mark Doyle’s earlier penalty from spoiling the Dublin 24 party, as the Hoops lifted a record 19th Premier Division title.
The win means that Stephen Bradley’s side end the season with their highest ever points tally (78) and a club-record 24 wins.
Drogheda United, who were already assured of their Premier Division status for 2022, were facing the country’s best side at the top of their game but were worthy opponents throughout – much to the credit of manager Tim Clancy.
Captain Ronan Finn’s trophy lift capped off a perfect day for Hoops fans who filled the stands early to welcome two-time PFAI Player of the Year Jack Byrne, who re-joined the Champions earlier on Friday.
Amongst the carnival atmosphere, the game was also notable for the fact it was the last in the career of Joey O’Brien, the former West Ham, Bolton Wanderers and Republic of Ireland defender opting to hang up his boots to join Damien Duff as a coach at Shelbourne next year.
While Rovers enjoyed the majority of early possession, the night's first big chance arrived for the visitors.
Usually the safe pair of hands, Alan Mannus flapped at an in-swinging Drogheda corner allowing the ball to bounce at the feet of Dane Massey, who fired his shot just wide.
At the other end, Drogheda’s defence had a huge task on their hands dealing with the Hoops’ fluid set-up.
Playing as wing-backs, Finn and Aaron Greene wandered forward enough to appear like an extra pair of strikers. Similarly, Danny Mandroiu and Dylan Watts took turns playing as the furthest forward despite both lining up as attacking midfielders.
Burke, the actual number 9 on the night, often dropped deepest in a bid to lure a central defender out of position.
However, despite many moving parts, the Drogheda defence stood resolute throughout the first half.
Clancy's side for their part, looked dangerous on the counter, especially when utilitising the pace of winger Darragh Markey.
And charging down on goal, it was Markey who won the penalty with two minutes to go in the first half. The Rovers fans voiced their opposition as Sean Hoare picked up a yellow card for hauling down the 24-year-old.
Drogheda acting as party poopers here. Mark Doyle's penalty just before the break gives them an interval advantage against champions Shamrock Rovers. pic.twitter.com/U79nUkj87x— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) November 19, 2021
Mark Doyle calmly placed the penalty in the bottom left corner for his 13th league goal of the season. Refusing to let Drogheda dampen the party, a chorus of 'Championes' quickly drowned out any visiting celebrations.
It took just four minutes of the second half, however, for Bradley’s side to equalise proceedings.
Mandroiu, arguably Rovers’ most important player this season, was the architect as he stepped inside midfield before slicing open the Drogheda defence with a 25-yard pass to unleash Burke on goal.
Rovers looked destined to take the lead with half an hour to go but Joe Redmond did brilliantly to halt Mandroiu’s shot from rolling over the line after it beat the goalkeeper.
Shamrock Rovers are level as Graham Burke finishes calmly. Rovers 1-1 Drogheda United. pic.twitter.com/wdDL9sk9ED— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) November 19, 2021
Two minutes later, it was the goalkeeper’s turn to prevent Mandroiu. David Odumoso was at full stretch when he used his fingertips to lift a furious shot over the bar.
The former Bohemians striker looked the closest to snatching the winner and with 20 minutes ago he was again stopped thanks to a last-ditch tackle by Mark Phillips.
Drogheda’s determined defending showed no signs of letting up.
The perfect end to the season looked increasingly out of reach for Hoops fans as the clock ticked on and Drogheda held their own in possession.
But, finally, through Dylan Watt’s corner in the 88th minute, Stephen Bradley’s side pulled off their trademark trick. It was by no means their latest goal of the season, but Burke’s headed effort ensured that the Hoops’ season ended with a fairytale win in front of 7,700 adoring fans.
Now the party can begin for the champions as Graham Burke grabs his second to put Shamrock Rovers in front against Drogheda United. pic.twitter.com/Ezwfbz1abO— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) November 19, 2021
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Joey O’Brien (Max Murphy, 77); Ronan Finn (Roberto Lopes 60), Aaron Greene (Barry Cotter, 60); Chris McCann (Aidomo Emakhu, 60), Richie Towell (Conan Noonan, 79); Danny Mandroiu, Dylan Watts; Graham Burke.
Drogheda United: David Odumosu; James Brown, Joe Redmond, Daniel O’Reilly, Dane Massey, Conor Kane; Killian Phillips, Gary Deegan, Darragh Markey (Mohamed Boudiaf, 78); Dinny Corcoran (Ahu Obhakan, 59), Mark Doyle (Luke Heeney, 77).
Referee: Rob Hennessy