Monaghan United ended a run of 17 years without a league win at Tolka Park to extend their unbeaten start to the season as they came from 2-1 down to outgun Shelbourne and move into second place in the Airtricity League First Division table.
Declan O’Brien was again Monaghan’s matchwinner, scoring the clinching goal after 77 minutes but he turned from hero to villain, receiving a second yellow card and his marching orders in injury time. Sean Brennan deserves a share of the plaudits as well, as he scored two and set up the third in another thrilling attacking performance.
United are now just one point behind league leaders Cork City in the table with a game in hand and could well go top of the table on Good Friday when they host Wexford Youths.
Roddy Collins again had to rejig his troops with David Rogers ruled out of the game against his former club and the back-from-suspension Conor McMahon slotted back into the centre of defence. O’Brien – who has now scored 4 goals in 3 games for United – started alone up front but Sean Brennan providing plenty of support and ammunition in the hole.
However, it was Cork, who included ex-Mons Philly Hughes and Barry Clancy in the starting eleven, who started brightly and took the lead after just 3 minutes. Hughes, United’s top scorer last term, was the architect, breaking down the right and having the vision to pick out David Cassidy, who rifled home past Gabriel Sava.
And Shels were almost two ahead through the same combination but this time Cassidy was denied by the crossbar. But United responded gamely and came close to a leveller on two occasions in the first quarter with Brennan and the recovered Paul Whelan to the fore. O’Brien was leading the line superbly too but the final ball was too often lacking in the United attacks.
However, all the pieces finally came together in first-half stoppage time when a precise passing move – one of many that United put together – was finished off by Brennan, who fired home a stunning strike from from outside the penalty area.
But United again were slow out of the blocks on the resumption and, after being served a warning when Cassidy spurned an early opening, United relinquished their lead after 49 minutes. Cassidy turned provider for Shels’ second as he picked out the run of Brendan McGill who raced clear of the defence and shot home confidently.
United should have hit back but they squandered a free kick in a promising position and, in fact, it was the home side who should have scored the next and possibly sealed the 3 points when Hughes broke and crashed a shot off the crossbar after 66 minutes when he might have been better advised to square to Cassidy.
Unbowed, United went straight down the other end and equalised. John Reilly was the provider on this occasion, as he picked up the ball in midfield, broke into the penalty area, beat the full back and laid the ball off for Brennan to slot home.
United were seemingly on course for their third successive 2-2 draw away from home but were not content to play for a point. And Monaghan sealed the win after 77 minutes when some more hesitant Shelbourne defending saw O’Brien break clear on goal after being picked up by a fine Brennan pass from inside the United half and the in-form striker showed his abundant poise and technique to lob the ball over the advancing Dean Delany.
The drama was not over, however. Firstly, the talismanic Brennan had to retire injured (thankfully he looks like being fit for next weekend’s matches) after 81 minutes – to be replaced by Dom Tierney – a minute later O’Brien received his first booking and then 2 minutes from time Shels hit the bar for a third time in the match through a Lorcan Fitzgerald strike. Finally, in stoppage time, O’Brien received his second booking as he pulled back a Shels player and United were briefly down to 10 men. But United held on for a famous victory as their stunning start to the season under Roddy Collins continued.
Shelbourne: Dean Delany; Ian Ryan, Barry Clancy, Andy Boyle, Lorcan Fitzgerald; Kevin Dawson, David McGill (Colm James 88), David Cassidy, Brendan McGill, Conan Byrne (Karl Bermingham 73); Philip Hughes.
Subs not used: Paul Skinner, Sean Byrne, Gareth Matthews, Ray Scully, John Sullivan
Monaghan United: Gabriel Sava; Paul Whelan, Shane Grimes, Conor McMahon, Aidan Collins; Eric Foley, John Reilly, Ryan Brennan, Sean Brennan (Shane Fitzgerald 90), Jason Marks; Declan O’Brien
Subs not used: Dom Tierney, Michael Isichei, Philp Byrne, Jake Rossiter, Jimmy Fallon, Andy Haran