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league opener Clinical Saints provide Damien Duff with food for thought on tough opening night for Shels

Shelbourne 0 St Patrick’s Athletic 3

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Pair of Jacks: Jack Scott of St Patrick's Athletic in action against Jack Moylan of Shelbourne at Tolka Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Pair of Jacks: Jack Scott of St Patrick's Athletic in action against Jack Moylan of Shelbourne at Tolka Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Pair of Jacks: Jack Scott of St Patrick's Athletic in action against Jack Moylan of Shelbourne at Tolka Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The chants of ‘sacked in the morning’ from giddy St Patrick’s Athletic fans was their ironic way of getting on board with the central talking point of this eagerly anticipated league opener. Damien Duff was always going to end up in the spotlight one way or the other.

There was no fairytale opening to his introduction to senior management, with superior quality in the Saints ranks coming to the fore at crucial intervals.

If that was deflating for the locals, they may still remember this day fondly with the afternoon announcement that Shels are steering course for the Dalymount project to try and buy Tolka Park from Dublin City Council putting a spring in the step.

It’s an encouraging work in progress and, in many respects, that could be said of Duff’s side too.

They weren’t bad at all here and if they can learn from the lessons in defensive organisation and find more rhythm in the final third they will be fine.

Tim Clancy’s Saints are further along the line as he starts his new job, yet they are being judged at a higher bar as they look to launch a title charge and there was room for improvement in victory.

Then again, with 15 of the 22 starters lining out for new clubs (nine Shels, six Pat’s) that was inevitable for the participants whatever the outcome.

From the hour before the game, the sense of anticipation around Tolka Park was palpable but the new manager’s arrival to the dugout was low-key.

This was business, yet the emotions were stirred within a minute when Dan Carr believed he had broken the deadlock with a close-range strike after a free-kick rebounded the area.

The ex-Shamrock Rovers striker had completed his customary somersault before the offside flag was spotted. Duff’s staff had temporarily lost their composure until they clocked it.

This was an encouraging start, however, with Shels operating in a system similar to the formation employed by Shamrock Rovers with a back three, wing-backs and a boxed midfield four with two creative operators behind Carr.

Jack Moylan was one of the ‘number tens’ and prominent from the outset; all his driving runs lacked was real power and conviction with the shot at the end of them but Bohemians will regret losing him.

His accomplice, Dan Hawkins, is industrious but his eagerness would inadvertently provide the assist for a Saints breakthrough with a stray pass as he attempted to launch a counter finding visiting winger Darragh Burns with home players wrong-footed.

St Pat’s resisted derisory winter bids for Burns given his potential and that should pay off with the 19-year-old working his body into a position to curl a glorious left-footer beyond Lewis Webb.

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He will become a fixture in the Ireland U-21 side once the paperwork for his transfer of allegiance from Northern Ireland is processed; he has a parent from either jurisdiction but the Dubliner raised in Meath sees his future down south.

At another point in his life, Duff might have admired the strike.

The concession was harsh on the home side at that juncture, yet they did ride their luck in the passage that followed with Clancy’s team mixing and matching it with their press, and succeeding in causing problems for Duff’s rearguard.

Eoin Doyle was supported ably by Burns and Mark Doyle with Billy King following from deeper, and Burns really could have added another as he caused issues for Kameron Ledwidge, an early replacement for Shane Griffin.

Duff had food for thought as he sprinted towards the tunnel at the halfway point.

Carr and Hawkins both threatened after the restart, but it was end to end for a spell and Clancy’s charges really asked questions of the Shels ability to play out when they committed bodies.

Yet the second goal came from minimal pressure with a poor Mark Coyle pass seized upon by his soundalike Mark Doyle with his mazy run into space was followed by a shot that was too hot for Swansea loanee Webb to hold.

While the older Doyle commanded a lot of headlines across the off-season, the younger version followed Clancy from Drogheda and should thrive in this environment.

King struck the woodwork with a 30-yarder from the restart, but the Saints were pegged back for a period with Udinese-bound James Abankwah switched from centre-back to right-back in a reshuffle.

Shels sub Jordan McEneff – a loanee from Arsenal who will be an asset when he gets into the groove – forced a stop from Joseph Anang and Duff urged his side on, feeling there was life in the game yet with shouts for a penalty giving the fourth official a taste of the temper.

They lost their impetus though, with the quality of Chris Forrester allowing the Saints to settle, and both benches had been emptied by the time sub Jason McClelland finished a neat move to put a flattering look on the scoreline with Duff not hanging around for too long to digest the aftermath of the full-time whistle.

It’s the reaction that will be most illuminating.

Shelbourne – Webb, O’Driscoll, Byrne, Griffin (Ledwidge 25); Wilson, Coyle, Dervin (McManus 86), Kane; Hawkins (McEneff 62), Moylan (Farrell 86); Carr (Anaebonam 62).

St Patrick’s Athletic – Anang, Scott (Grivosti 75), Redmond, Abankwah, Breslin; Lennon, Forrester; Burns (O’Reilly 86), King (McClelland 65), M Doyle; E Doyle.

Ref Rob Hennessy.

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