By Gerard Mulreaney (@gerardmulreaney)
The President’s Cup final between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk showcased the best two teams in the country on Friday night. It ended with Dundalk winning the game on a penalty shoot-out after the game finished 1-1 after 90 minutes.
New signing Sonni Nattestad opened the scoring for the FAI Cup winners just before halftime when he soared to head home corner kick. Liam Scales equalised just after the break when scored a superb goal, taking a cross over his shoulder, one touch volley with his right foot to his left foot, turned and shot a wonderful left-footed drive past Abibi in the Dundalk goal. It was goal worthy of any occasion, never mind a pre-season friendly. There were some noteworthy performances on the night, and I take a look at some of the most interesting takeaways from the game.
First of all take a look at this wonder-strike by Liam Scales
What an absolutely glorious goal from Liam Scales.
Magic of the Presidents Cup! pic.twitter.com/kDhDY9JqAt
— Back Page Football (@bpfootball) March 12, 2021
Dundalk’s Albanian goalkeeper was making his debut in Tallaght following the retirement of League of Ireland legend Gary Rogers. He’s a big man, all of six feet five, and he looked really assured right from the off. Looked comfortable in the air as well as with the ball at his feet. He was quick off his line when Dundalk’s defence was breached. He pulled off a great save after Liam Scales header came back off the crossbar, pawing the ball away through a crowd of players. He had no chance with the goal, you just have to credit Scales for a brilliant finish.
His positioning was good throughout, in the right place to save a good effort from both Chris McCann and Graham Burke. He did flap at a cross late in the second half, but there was a very strong breeze, so wouldn’t be too harsh on him for that. In the penalty shoot-out he stepped up big time to save from both Graham Burke and Rory Gaffney. It also looked like he’s bonded well with the group during the celebrations.
Overall, it was a competent debut, and it gave him a good test for what’s to come. A good replacement for Rogers.
McCann joined Shamrock Rovers following a few years as a journeyman pro. He made his career in an 8-year spell at Burnley, making over 200 appearances for the club. He joins a Rovers side who’ve lost both Aaron McEneff and Jack Byrne, two players who would leave a massive hole in any teams’ midfield. However, he looked very comfortable on Friday night, linking up well with fellow new boy Danny Mandroiu, along with Graham Burke. Little intricate passes amongst that trio were unlucky not to have opened big gaps in the Dundalk defence at times, but that will come. He also possesses a cultured left-foot, and on a few occasions tried his luck from distance. Once he gets more games you could see him scoring a fair few goals throughout the season.
Despite the red card for a challenge on Graham Burke, the six-foot six-inch defender looked very impressive. He popped up in the penalty area just before half-time to head in the opening goal from McEleney’s corner. It won’t be the last time he causes panic in an opposing teams’ defence in dead ball situations. He was very unfortunate in my opinion to get sent off. The challenge on Burke looked harsh. He appeared to get some part of the ball. I think it was more the reaction of the Shamrock Rovers players and coaching staff that influenced the referee’s decision, and Dundalk are likely to appeal. Nattestad, a 31-time capped Faroe Islands International will become a, pardon the pun, big player for Dundalk this season. His distribution was good, he tried to play the ball into the feet of the front men at every opportunity. He wasn’t overly tested defensively on the night, but that will come in time.
Here’s that tackle on Burke. Make up your own mind.
Here is the Nattestad red card, only noticed this now, if you watch the referee, he has a yellow card out straight away then if you watch Hoare and McCann speak to ref separately and then flashes a straight red #Dundalk #Rovers #LOI #PresidentsCup pic.twitter.com/wZnfEZEqIT
— Chris McKinnon (@cjmck777) March 12, 2021
Big season ahead for Mandroiu. It was a disappointing season for him last year but the move to Rovers, for many a direct replacement for Jack Byrne, could be just what he needs. He has some excellent players around him, in Chris McCann, Graham Burke, Ronan Finn and Gary O’Neill, so won’t lack encouragement. He’s a hugely talented player, as was shown during his time at Bohs. Maybe his temperament needs a bit of work, but that’s something he’ll surely work on. He played well at times in the first half, linking well with Burke and McCann. Plus, it also shows how highly Stephen Bradley rates him when he was entrusted with all their set-pieces.
Yet another Rovers midfielder. Watts was introduced for the last quarter of an hour, coming in for Ronan Finn. He made an immediate impression, wanting to get on the ball at every opportunity, moving from side to side, trying to get involved. He only started nine games last season so will want to lay down a marker early. It’s a tough task trying to break into the Rovers midfield but he extremely capable.