DUNDALK goalkeeper Peter Cherrie saved a Gary McCabe penalty as the Lilywhites and Shamrock Rovers opened the new season with an entertaining scoreless draw in front of 2598 spectators at Oriel Park on Friday night.
Cherrie, who also saved a penalty on the opening day of the 2010 season against Bray Wanderers, flung himself to his left to earn Stephen Kenny’s side a well deserved share of the spoils against his old employers.
Dundalk, who played a style of football that will surely entice people back to Oriel Park this season, might have won all three points themselves late on with substitutes Vinny Faherty and John Mountney denied by two excellent saves from Rovers keeper Barry Murphy.
Kenny’s men had to hang on in the dying stages with full-back Dane Massey sent-off for two late offences, the first of which led to McCabe’s penalty.
The home side’s hopes were given a boost before kick-off with the sight of Mark Quigley wrapped up in a tracksuit and hat from the elements; the former Lilywhites Player of the Year missing out with a calf injury.
Derek Foran, last season’s outstanding performer for the club, made his return to Oriel Park, partnering Jason McGuinness at the heart of the Rovers back four.
Kenny opted for an attacking line up with Keith Ward dovetailing off Kurtis Byrne and Patrick Hoban. John Dillon, Stephen O’Donnell - a former Rovers player - and Richie Towell were manned with the task of shielding the back four.
The ball resembled a hand grenade in the early stages with both sides finding it difficult to get into any sort of rhythm but the home support were given some encouragement by a number of eye catching patterns from Kenny’s newly assembled side.
The new Dundalk boss stated that his team would play risky, attractive football and he was good to his word in the opening 25 minutes. This was displayed best in the 19th minute when a clipped pass from goalkeeper Peter Cherrie set John Sullivan on the attack down the right. The move leading to a corner where a Hoban header drew a full length save from Barry Murphy.
Rovers took time to find their feet but they showed slight glimpses of a cutting edge as Dundalk began to slightly lose their way around the half hour mark. And centre-forward Ciaran Kilduff will feel he should have scored from a Conor Powell cross from the left.
The home side regained their composure, if not their tempo, for the rest of the had but the deadlock never really looked like being broken and the sides went in scoreless at the break.
The second-half struggled to live up to the quality of the first with neither goalkeeper called into action in the opening 15 minutes. Rovers remained as subdued as they have been in quite some time at Oriel Park while Dundalk failed to rediscover the free flowing football from the opening period.
Something was needed to ignite the game and that moment arrived in the 68th minute when Dundalk full-back Massey hacked Billy Dennehy down right on the edge of the 18-yard box. The margins were fine but it looked like referee Dave McKeon made the right decision in pointing to the spot but McCabe’s penalty was brilliantly pushed away by Cherrie.
It was Trevor Croly’s side who reacted positively to the incident with Dennehy surprising Cherrie with a piledriver minutes later.
Buoyed on by a partisan home support, there was always a feeling that Dundalk had more to offer before the final whistle blew and two of Kenny’s substitutes, Faherty and Mountney, almost made a sudden impact when introduced.
Faherty saw a header well saved by Murphy after a teasing ball by Massey had caused problems for the Rovers back four and the Rovers keeper had to show safe hands again when Mountney sent a blistering effort goal ward inside the final 10 minutes.
There was still time for late drama as Massey was sent-off for a second bookable offence in the third minute of stoppage time for hauling down Karl Sheppard; Ronan Finn’s free-kick hitting the wall to give the home side their well earned reward.
DUNDALK FC: Peter Cherrie; John Sullivan, Andy Boyle, Mark Rossiter, Dane Massey; Richie Towell, Stephen O’Donnell; John Dillon (John Mountney 79), Keith Ward (Stephen McDonnell 71), Kurtis Byrne; Patrick Hoban (Vinny Faherty 76). Unused subs: Eoghan Osborne, Tiarnan Mulvenna, Darren Meenan, Aaron Shanahan (GK).
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Barry Murphy; Pat Sullivan, Derek Foran, Jason McGuinness, Conor Powell; Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice, James Chambers (Conor McCormack 82), Gary McCabe (Karl Sheppard 82), Ciaran Kilduff, Billy Dennehy (Thomas Stewart 71). Unused subs: Danny Ledwith, Shane Robinson, David Elebert, Richard Brush (GK).
REFEREE: Dave McKeon (Meath). ATTENDANCE: 2598.