The location of Tallaght stadium, at the foot of the Dublin mountains, is particularly apt considering the route Derry City were presented with ahead of last night’s unofficial title showdown against Shamrock Rovers.
GARRY DOYLE reports from Tallaght
With two Dublin peaks to climb – the second of which is now irrelevant – Derry struggled to navigate their way through the first 20 minutes of this game before getting on the right path and playing some sensational football.
Yet the treacherous nature of their route proved crucial in the end. Rohan Ricketts scored, Derry lost, the six-point-swing went Shamrock Rovers way and Derry’s title dream was over.
With three games remaining, their chances of cutting Rovers’ eight-point-gap are frighteningly slim. The maths may suggest anything is possible but, in reality, the game is up and they know it.
While bitterly disappointed at that poor second half showing, Brandywell boss, Stephen Kenny, continued to heap praise on his playing staff, as he has done throughout the current campaign.
“It is bitterly disappointing but I continue to be very proud of my players because for them to achieve this after where they have come from is a magnificent thing,” he said.
“Remember that 18 months ago, we had four signed players. Remember that so many of this squad had no Premier Division experience before this season. Remember how many of them are locally based.
“These players have been superb. It is highly unlikely Rovers will slip up now, but we have given a good account of ourselves, not just tonight but over the course of the season.
“So the aim now is to finish strongly and get into Europe. We played well, tonight, especially in the first half,” he noted.
But no one played better than left-back, Daniel Lafferty, the Carnhill man who seized control of proceedings midway through the half and pieced together some beautiful pieces of play.
There was his first-half free-kick which went agonisingly wide; his 30-yard pass which dissected the Rovers defence and set up a chance for Stephen McLaughlin and that beautiful, curling cross from the left which saw Eamon Zayed head the ball onto the post.
Had Derry converted any of those chances, then who knows how this game would have unfolded?
As it is, it hardly matters because it was Rovers’ latest recruit, Rohan Ricketts, who opened the scoring, lobbing Gerard Doherty with a delicate shot after Richard Brush had provided him with the opportunity with a long kick-out.
But the Derry defence not only failed to deal with the situation, a lapse in concentration proved costly as Derry’s powerhouse centre-half Stewart Greacen was caught out and keeper, Doherty, stranded.
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The cruelty of that goal was felt by everyone in Derry. For it was they who provided the better football for so much of this game and it was they who had been written off before last night.
In fact, it was they who had been written out of the championship picture at the start of the season.
Yet the sight of those locally-reared players, assembled on a shoestring by their talented team boss, was reminiscent of the 2005 season, when again, an underrated team went to the brink of glory before falling agonisingly short at Turner’s Cross.
Last night was a different kind of agony because this was a game that always looked like siding with the team who scored the first goal, the momentum such a strike brings, the confidence a young team needs when they meet their coming-of-age moment.
As it was Ricketts got it – and from here on in, Shamrock Rovers were a different team, more purposeful in their attacks, more likely to get a second than Derry were to get a first.
Craig Sives came close but Doherty saved superbly. Gary Twigg came closer but his header was too high.
At the other end, the same problem visited Ryan McBride. And when his header went over, Derry’s night – and season – was summed up. They came close, just not close enough.
Afterwards, Rovers manager Michael O’Neill, said: “This was a massive victory for us. We put in a massive second half performance after Derry had the better of the first half.
“That win is huge for us because we have a big lead now over Derry which is crucial because they have been excellent this season. The title isn’t won yet. We still have to focus on Europe as well.
“Apparently I have doubters, but if we finish the deal then we will have won the League two years out of three, will have a million euro in the bank from qualifying for the Europa League and that makes me think the doubters are an irrelevance,” he concluded.