Flores thunderbolt the highlight as an exciting season ensues

Photo credit: David Wilson

It’s Shamrock Rovers who have surged to the top of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division after an enthralling opening set of fixtures.

A first home win for Rovers against champions Dundalk since May 2017 has given Stephen Bradley’s side an early advantage in a title race which is sure to have numerous twists and turns before the culmination in October.

Tallaght Stadium played host to a spectacle for the ages as Ireland’s top two went toe to toe in front of a record crowd of 7,522 for a league game in Rovers’ home ground.

A star-studded audience including senior international manager Mick McCarthy and his assistant Terry Connor, under-21 international manager Stephen Kenny and long-time League of Ireland supporter President Michael D. Higgins witnessed one of the goals of the year.

Twenty-two minutes in, after going a goal behind, Dundalk winger Michael Duffy stepped up to take a corner in front of a large vociferous away support. The corner was driven, angling away from Alan Mannus’ goal, the majority of the contingent of the Dundalk attackers headed towards the near post.

However, Jordan Flores, the Lilywhites’ cultured left-footed midfielder made a run towards the back stick. As the ball made its way towards the eighteen-yard box, Flores waved his wand of a left foot which met the ball at its highest point and thundered his strike beyond the clutches of Mannus.

Such was the excellence of this goal; it took the ground a second longer to react. Sheer disbelief was etched not only on the faces of the fans but also the players such as Sean Gannon and Sean Hoare could not quite believe the perfection of this goal.

If you are one of the very few that haven’t seen it, think Zinedine Zidane. Think of the famous volleyed Champions League Final goal in Hampden Park in 2001. It was THAT good.

Thanks to social media, pieces of genius such as this were immediately shared and broadcast all over the world. Over eight million views and counting, featuring on news reports in Russia, China, and even making it to the famed sports broadcast ESPN SportsCenter where the shear quality of the volley garnered the attention of even the most casual of sports fans.

The game ended with another special bit of brilliance. Irish international Jack Byrne received a pass 23 yards from goal. He weaved and wormed his way away from would-be defenders before bending a beautiful strike into the bottom corner securing all three points and top position in the league, for now.

Speaking after the game Byrne spoke glowingly about his former teammate Flores’ wonder strike.

“Cracker” said Byrne. “I played with Flores at Wigan and I know he has that (goal) in the locker, just didn’t think he’d take it out tonight. I’m delighted for him that he scored because he had a tough time last year with injuries, he’s a lot fitter than last year and hopefully he can go on and have a good season.”

It showed that even though there is a fierce rivalry between these teams, the respect they have for each other is high.

Elsewhere in the league, Shelbourne have made a fine start on the return to domestic top-level football. A win away to Cork City was followed by a battling home performance against Dundalk which resulted in a 2-1 loss.

A derby win against St. Patricks Athletic thanks to a Jaze Kabia header has saw Ian Morris’ side take an impressive six points from their opening three games.

Pats have gone under a serious revamp under boss Stephen O’Donnell as he tries to put his own stamp on the Inchicore men. Their opening game saw a home loss against Waterford before winning away to Sligo Rovers. Defeat in Tolka Park has already put the pressure on the team as their European aspirations are dealt a blow, although there is plenty of time to rectify.

Bohemians suffered defeat to Shamrock Rovers in their first game before picking up six points against Waterford and Sligo. A gruelling away trip to the Brandywell to face Derry City saw Keith Long’s side lose 2-0, in what many believe will be the two teams to battle for third place behind Rovers and Dundalk.

There is no doubt that the highlight of the opening rounds of games is the majestic Jordan Flores strike, however the season already shown great promise, some controversy and an abundance of attacking football as the summer draws nearer.

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