By Killian McHale

Shamrock Rovers travelled West to Sligo as we began our 2023 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division campaign with a 1-1 draw against Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds.

Stephen Bradley named an ever-strong starting line-up, with Winter signings Trevor Clarke & Markus Poom both named in the starting eleven.

The game began in frantic fashion, with both sides creating numerous chances inside the first quarter of the game. With just 90 seconds on the clock, Neil Farrugia broke at the Sligo defence, before laying off to Graham Burke down the right channel, who cut in and forced a good low save from Luke McNicholas in the Sligo net.

This woke up Sligo and they began to see more of the ball in the Rovers half, and were sure they broke the deadlock after 13 minutes until Alan Mannus produced an incredible double save to keep the hosts out. First, Mannus saved well from a Will Fitzgerald volley on the edge of the box; moments later, he saved fantastically at the near post from Sligo’s new front-man Frank Livak to maintain his clean sheet.

This came back to bite Sligo 5 minutes later, as Graham Burke opened the scoring after 18 minutes to give Rovers the lead. Trevor Clarke, on his return to Rovers, found Burke 10 yards inside the Sligo half, before Burke carried the ball forward and unleashed a low-driven effort from 22 yards beyond Luke McNicholas to give Stephen Bradley’s side the breakthrough.

The goal settled the game down slightly, with Rovers maintaining the upper hand of possession for the remainder of the first half. Livak had two half-chances for the hosts but never troubled Alan Mannus enough in the Rovers goal, as the hoops went into the break leading by a goal to nil.

It took a while for the game to get going in the second half. Although both Neil Farrugia and Burke had efforts early on in the half, both were off-target.

The turning point in the game came after 67 minutes when Rovers captain on the night Roberto Lopes was shown a straight red card by referee Damien McGrath for an off-the-ball incident with Kailin Barlow.

Minutes later, Barlow came inches away from equalising for the hosts, only for the post to deny his close-range effort inside the Rovers box.

As the game went on, it became more intense with both sides picking up yellow cards across the pitch.

Sligo came close in the final 5 minutes through both Will Fitzgerald and Eanna Clancy, both shooting, and luck seemed to have been running out for John Russell’s side until they struck the equaliser in the fifth minute of injury time.

The Rovers defence failed to sufficiently clear an in-swinging corner, with Lukas Browning picking up a loose ball on the edge of the box, before firing home into the bottom left-hand corner, much to the disappointment of the Rovers players and fans.

This was the last real opportunity of the game, as both sides had to settle for a share of the points as their respective league campaigns got underway. Shamrock Rovers are on the road again next Friday, travelling up the M1 to Weavers Park to take on Drogheda United in a 7:45pm kick-off.

Sligo Rovers: McNicholas; Brannefalek, Pijnaker, Clancy, Hutchinson (92’ O’Sullivan); Bolger © (75’ Radosavljevic), Browning; Fitzgerald, Livak (60’ Hartmann), Barlow (92’ Lafferty); Mata.

Sligo Rovers Subs Not Used: Richard Brush (GK), James Finnerty, John Mahon, David Cawley, Sean McAteer.

Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Cleary, Lopes ©, Grace; Farrugia, Watts (79’ O’Neill), Poom, Clarke (63’ Nugent); Burke (63’ Burt), Gaffney (63’ Kenny), Byrne (79’ Towell).

Shamrock Rovers Subs Not Used: Leon Pohls (GK), Aaron Greene, Simon Power, Kieran Cruise.

Attendance: 4,238.