Michael Kiely

Blues best: Battle for possession between Waterford Uniteds John Kearney and Shamrock Rovers’ Stephen Rice during their league cup quarter-final at the RSC on Tuesday evening. | Photo: Michael Kiely

Waterford United; 2 Shamrock Rovers 1

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Since Adam was a young boy games between Waterford and Shamrock Rovers have always produced something special and yet again the two clubs gave us plenty to talk about when they met at the RSC on Tuesday evening.

Rovers came to town as the in-form team in the Premier League and fresh from a superb victory over top-flight leaders Bohemians the previous Saturday. The Blues are flying high in the First Division and were determined to make it 10 victories from 11 games in all competitions.

Their task was made all the harder because many of Stephen Henderson’s small squad were nursing injuries following the scoreless draw away to UCD on Friday last. Kevin Waters (leg), Gary Dunphy (back) and Paul McCarthy (hip) were far from fully fit but nevertheless their names had to be pencilled in on the referee’s match card.

Despite all of those problems, Waterford United recorded a fantastic victory against all the odds and duly booked a place in the last four alongside Sligo Rovers, Bohemians and fellow ‘tier two’ outfit, UCD.

Kiely wonder goal

Shamrock Rovers played with the aid of a very strong breeze during the opening 45 minutes. That attacked the ‘city end’ of the RSC from the outset and Ollie Cahill made goalkeeper Michael Devine work with a stinging low shot from 20 yards after 24 minutes. Darragh Maguire then headed a corner kick from the right taken by Stephen Bradley over the crossbar from a good position.

The Blues went close themselves on 34 minutes with John Kearney bringing a decent save from Rovers ‘keeper Barry Murphy with a stinging shot after taking a pass from Graham Cummins. Tadgh Purcell headed wide of Michael Devine’s goal when unmarked shortly afterwards.

The Blues sent the crowd of just over 600 wild with excitement on 42 minutes. Alan Carey played the ball long from inside his own half. Willie John Kiely raced past the highly-rated Hoops defender Darragh Maguire before cutting into the penalty area and drilling the ball past the helpless Barry Murphy from 16 yards.

The excitement turned to despair one minute into time added on. Stephen Bradley’s free kick from inside his own half caught the breeze and indeed the home defender and the experienced Dessie Baker took full advantage to crash the ball past Michael Devine from 12 yards.

Kearney classic

The half-time chat between supporters focused on whether Waterford United could recover from that hammer blow, and when Rovers almost scored after 49 minutes, that talk was justified. Dessie Baker crossed from the right to Sean O’Connor. His header came crashing back off the crossbar and into the path of Tadgh Purcell, but he blazed over the crossbar when it looked easier to score.

What proved to be the golden goal came one minute before the hour mark. A long ball forward by John Kearney caused problems to the visiting defenders and Darragh Maguire was forced to push Graham Cummins just outside the penalty area. John Kearney took the free kick and his bullet-like shot flew high into the roof of the net.

Nine minutes later Rovers manager Michael O’Neill brought on the country’s leading goalscorer Gary Twigg, but the Scottish-born striker did not get a sniff due to the immense performances of central defenders, Kenny Browne and Kevin Murray.

Neither did the rest of the visiting players and as a result another wonderful Blues victory over the famed Hoops had been recorded.

Henderson had nothing but praise for his diehards afterwards: “I’m over the moon with the win, delighted with the way we played, and especially the way we defended.

“Kieran [Fitzgerald] was great, Gary Dunphy hadn’t played in a while but was great, Grincell hadn’t played in a while, [though] he played against UCD last week, and he worked his socks off.”

“You have to look at the players carrying injuries as well, Kevin Murray with shin splints, Fletch [Kenny Browne] with shin splints, then we had Kevin Waters on the bench with a bruised calf.

“They’re all injured but they’re coming out onto the pitch and we just ask them to empty the tank every time they go out and play and I think when you do that and you have enough good players on the pitch you get your rewards.

“The conditions didn’t allow for expansive football but it was going to be a battle, we turned it into a battle and then we came up with two great strikes.

“The Sporting Fingal game [tonight] is a massive one, but the players are on a high now and really up for the challenge,” Henderson added.

It’s the Blues’ second trip to the capital in a week, having earned a point in a scoreless draw at UCD seven days ago. Liam Buckley’s side are a couple of points below Waterford in third.

Waterford are on a run of 11 games unbeaten in all competitions (eight League). Though niggling injuries are affecting Paul McCarthy and Kevin Waters, Declan Woodgate returns to the squad after missing the Cup match due to sitting an exam.

Waterford are looking the real deal from 1 to 11. Brilliant at the back, dynamic in midfield and the division’s joint-top scorers Graham Cummins and Willie John Kiely have 17 goals between them after only the first series of fixtures. The quality of their football was borne out by the way they dealt with the windy conditions at Kilbarry during the week. Long may it continue.

Waterford United: Michael Devine, Alan Carey, Kenny Browne, Seamus Long, Kieran Fitzgerald, John Kearney, Gary Dunphy, Graham Cummins, David Grincell, Willie John Kiely, Kevin Murray. Subs: Kevin Waters for Kiely (75 mins), Paul McCarthy for Dunphy (88 mins).

Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy, Ollie Cahill, Pat Flynn, Daragh Maguire, Aidan Price, Stephen Rice, Stephen Bradley, Sean O’Connor, Dessie Baker, Eoin Doyle, Tadgh Purcell. Subs: Greg Cameron for Doyle (57 mins), Gary Twigg for Purcell (68 mins), Padraig Amond for Price (75 mins).

Referee: Derek Tomney (Dublin).