Graham Burke hat-trick puts Shamrock Rovers top of the table after win over Sligo Rovers


GRAHAM BURKE came off the bench to fire a 15-minute hat-trick to send Shamrock Rovers top of the table.

Burke was one of four changes made at the break as Stephen Bradley reacted to a listless first-half performance.

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Shamrock Rovers’ Graham Burke shoots to score his team’s second goal1 credit

His fellow substitutes played their part in the victory but it was the Irish international who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring in the 54th, 56th and 69th minutes.

Another player who started the game on the bench, Aidan Keena, also made his mark, with an emphatic finish. Sligo nearly grabbed a second but it was too little, too late.

With by far the strongest team in the country, Bradley has the ability to rotate more than most.

And, with Friday’s top two clash against Derry City in mind, he made seven changes to the side that beat Finn Harps on Friday.

If this was an opportunity for some to work their way into their plans for it, no one exactly grabbed it with both hands.

In fact, Barry Cotter struggled when he had the ball in his reach, being penalized twice for foul throws in the first half, which led to the odd sight of Bradley and Jack Byrne demonstrating how to do it from either side of him sailing close to the wind. with a third.

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The former Limerick and Ipswich Town player was taken off at half-time when those sides met here in March after providing a goal for the opposition in the 2-2 draw.

He escaped the shepherd’s crook this time but Gary O’Neill, Neil Farrugia, Aaron Greene and Aidomo Emakhu were all brought down in the meantime.

Burke, Chris McCann, Andy Lyons and Rory Gaffney were sent off as Bradley reacted decisively to a disappointing 45 minutes.

Sligo probably had no complaints, especially as Ed McGinty was sent off shortly before kick-off.

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Their much-loved keeper suffered a blow to the ribs in Friday’s loss to Shelbourne and – after the warm-up here – it was decided he should sit out.

It saw 37-year-old Richard Brush make the third appearance of his fourth stint with the Bit O’ Red against a club where he had two short spells earlier in his career.

The Englishman had nothing of note to do in the first half but Alan Mannus wasn’t overworked at the other end either.

The best chance of the opening period came early on when, on a throw-in, Robbie McCourt hit Seán Hoare and then drilled the ball in front of goal.

Seán Kavanagh did well at the far post to prevent the ball from reaching Max Mata at the expense of a corner.

Other than that, the visitors looked set to attempt to smother the Hoops in midfield with little to no width in Liam Buckley’s side.

Jack Byrne

Normal full-back Colm Horgan was deployed to the center of the park where his instructions appeared to be to keep an eye out for Jack Byrne.

Byrne was not particularly influential but, then, that might have had as much to do with his own team as with the opposition.

He picked Emakhu up with a good through ball, but the young striker was ousted by Nando Pijnaker and Garry Buckley a bit too easily.

Sligo had a few neat exchanges of passes from the first team but, all too often, they were then guilty of kicking the ball aimlessly upwards, with Buckley making no attempt to hide his frustration at giving away possession so cheaply.

Whatever annoyance Bradley felt about his team’s display dissipated after the break as Burke steered his team to three points almost single-handedly.

First, in the 54th minute, he finished well after Lyons and Byrne combined to put him back on.

SLIGO CHANGES

The visitors didn’t have a chance to regroup before they found themselves trailing 2-0.

Byrne got rid of his own box, leaving Gaffney in a race with Nando Pijnaker. As the New Zealander struggled to keep up the pace, Garry Buckley came to help, but that just left Burke free and the striker picked him.

Buckley did make a trio of changes himself in an attempt to turn the tide, but Burke completed his highs with a drilled shot before Keena grabbed a consolation with a rising shot after bursting into the box.

THE MAN FROM THE STAR OF THE SUN: Graham Burke (Shamrock Rovers)

SHAMROCK ROVER: Mannus 7; Hoare 6, Lopes 6, Kavanagh 7; Cotter 5, Watts 6, O’Neill 5 (Burke 46.9), Farrugia 5 (McCann 46.6); Byrne 8 (Towell 75.5); Emakhu 5 (Lyons 46, 7), Greene 5 (Gaffney 46, 7).

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ROBUS SLIGO: Brush 6; Banks 6, Buckley 5, Pijnaker 5, McCourt 6; Bolger 5, Horgan 5 (O’Sullivan 80, 4); Keogh 5 (Fitzgerald 62.5), McDonnell 6 (Morahan 82.4); Mata 5 (Heaney 62.5), Hamilton 5 (Keena 62.6).

ARBITRATOR: D Tomne (Dublin) 6

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