By Dave Donnelly
Shamrock Rovers 2 – UCD 0
Shamrock Rovers warmed up for their President’s Cup season-opener against Dundalk with a straightforward 2-0 win over UCD in Tallaght Stadium on Saturday night.
Early goals for Graham Burke and Rory Gaffney proved the difference on the day as a mix of young and experienced Hoops cruised past the First Division side.
As is his wont in recent seasons, Rovers boss Stephen Bradley split his squad in two for back-to-back friendlies on the Saturday with the other half losing 2-1 to Shelbourne in Roadstone.
The side that lined up against the Students contained all four of the Jobstown man’s close-season signings: Sean Hoare, Danny Mandroiu, Chris McCann and the returning Sean Gannon.
McCann was a particularly solid presence in midfield, where the former Burnley man will step into the shoes of Aaron McEneff following his departure for Hearts last month.
Mandroiu has a tougher job filling the boots of twice PFAI player of the year Jack Byrne, but he was busy and involved as he continues to settle following his eyebrow-raising switch from Bohemians.
Hoare and Gannon would see more action on the attacking front than in defence, however, playing right centre-back and right wing-back respectively, as UCD struggled to mount many serious attacks.
It was a good run-out, nonetheless, for the Students – who are managed by former Hoop Andy Myler – as they are a couple of weeks further back in their season preparation.
Myler continued with the experiment of playing Jack Keaney on the right side of a back three, with Mark Dignam moved forward to midfield and captain Paul Doyle playing off striker Colm Whelan.
Sean Brennan, who spent the past season on loan with Shamrock Rovers II in the First Division, was the most impressive Student, running the engine room before his withdrawal at half time.
By then, the game was already over as a contest, Rovers having netted twice in the opening 12 minutes to put UCD out of reach before some of the visitors had touched the ball.
Goalkeeper Lorcan Healy certainly didn’t get close to Graham Burke’s opener, as the striker too easily peeled off Keaney and buried a low shot right-footed into the bottom corner.
The netminder must have felt he was in for a long day when Rovers doubled their lead with their second clear chance.
A fine through-ball from teenager Conan Noonan sent Gaffney clear and, with Healy deciding better than to come and contest the ball, saw the former Limerick striker slot the ball through his legs.
Healy pulled off an impressive stop to deny Burke following more good work from Noonan, and defender Harry McEvoy bravely blocked another goalbound effort from the striker.
The classy Noonan is one of ten players from last season’s B team granted pro deals this year, Rovers having slammed the decision to deny them access to the second tier this year.
It was forwards Gaffney and Burke who continued to pepper the UCD goal, however, with Healy pulling off a fantastic stop to deny the former following a flowing passing move.
UCD could have netted a consolation with the last touch of the game as sub Adam Farrell met a cross from fellow replacement Evan Weir, but he couldn’t keep his shot down.