Shels and Dalymount: Historical Romance Set to be Renewed

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The complex history of League of Ireland clubs and their stadiums is likely to get a little bit more complicated with the revelation that Shelbourne look set to join Bohemians in Dalymount Park in the not too distant future, writes Gavin White.

After months of negotiations, Dublin City Council have resolved the difficult problem of the Tolka Park lease and works on the new Dalymount Park should begin with its levelling late next year providing a smooth transition of the Phibsborough site.

The move represents a significant change for a club who have called Drumcondra their official home since 1989 when Chairman Tony Donnelly first took the keys of Tolka Park. Having previously had spells in Shelbourne Park, Harold’s Cross, Irishtown and Dalymount Park it was the beginning of a new and extremely successful era in the Shels long and storied history since it’s inception in 1895.

The legacy that the club will leave behind in Tolka will be unforgettable. Whether it be Davy Rodger’s sublime strike against Hadjuk Split in 2004 to set up a tie with Deportivo La Coruna in the Champions League, or claiming back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004 as the League of Ireland turned to summer football for the first time. The memories left behind will leave supporters feeling nostalgic and poignant as they look to the unknown in Dalymount Park.

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Despite these wonderful moments, Shels will be going into a redeveloped ground where they have already seen historic events. As home to Bohemians and many Ireland international fixtures, Dalymount has also held a number of cup final fixtures as well as being the stage for some of Shelbourne’s most famous European adventures.

Having finished level on points with Cork Celtic in the 1961/1962 season, Shels won the play-off for the League of Ireland title 1-0 in Dalymount Park and thus gained entry to the European Cup for the first time. There they drew Sporting club de Portugal, who would go on to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following year.

The tie with the Portuguese champions was a huge draw for the Dublin crowd and was the beginning of a mini European odyssey for the northside club over the next three years. On Wednesday 19th of September, 22,000 packed into Dalymount Park as a Shelbourne team containing club legends Theo Dunne and Eric Barber battled to a 2-0 loss. No mean feat against a team of such high pedigree.

Writing in the Irish Independent the next morning, W.P. Murphy paid tribute to the home side’s spirit by stating – “Shels glorious in defeat. The game was flavoured with all the tenseness and excitement that one expects from cup football and was thoroughly enjoyed by the big attendance as they watched the Davids of League of Ireland fight a magnificent battle against the Goliaths of Portugal”.

1963 was proving to be a successful year for the Reds as they went on to win the FAI Cup defeating Cork Hibernians in Dalymount Park, which qualified them to play in the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following season bringing an exciting tie with Barcelona.

Another 22,000 strong crowd in Dalymount witnessed the great Spanish team get the better of Shels by two goals before the Irish went to the Nou Camp and took the lead after half an hour through a Paddy Bonham penalty. An injury reduced the Reds to ten men as they succumbed to an inevitable 3-1 defeat, however, the Irish public heaped praise on Gerry Doyle’s team.

The following year, Shels entered the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, the original incarnation of the UEFA Cup, where they achieved their first success in European competition in a tie with the Portuguese club Belenenses. The first leg of the tie was a 1-1 draw played in Lisbon, where a late Eric Barber goal was enough to secure a vital draw before the return leg in Dalymount. A scoreless draw saw a flip of the coin to decide who had home advantage for a play-off tie.
It was the last time a play-off tie was played in the competition as the away goals rule was brought in the following season and in October 1964, goals from Ben Hannigan and Mick Conroy gave the Reds a famous 2-1 win to secure their first ever European progression and another glamour tie with Atletico Madrid.

In the first game, on the 26th of November of that year, another Dalymount Park packed to the rafters saw Shels lose 1-0 despite being down to ten men because of an injury to Jack Hennessy. It was another remarkable feat considering the Madrid side had finished second only to Real Madrid in La Liga the previous season.

An 85th minute goal was enough for Atletico to progress in the next leg bringing Shels’ terrific European nights in Dalymount Park to an end after three years of success. However, it wasn’t just the European nights that Shels will remember in ‘Dalyer’.

The 19th of November 1967 saw one of the most famous games in the club’s history unfold as they went into half time losing 2-0 away to Bohemians. Soon after the re-start, Jimmy O’Connor embarked on a journey that would last two minutes and thirteen seconds and stay in the history books to this day, as he a scored a hat-trick to not only win the match but secure the fastest ever treble in football history.

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Although the sixties heralded an extremely productive time for the Reds, their first major success had come at the beginning of the twentieth century. Before the split with the Belfast-based Irish Football Association (IFA), Shelbourne competed in the IFA Cup, along with club sides from the north and south of the country. They became the first team to take the Cup south to Leinster and to Dublin.

After initially losing out 3-0 to Distillery FC in their inaugural IFA Cup final in 1905, bringing 2,000 travelling fans to Solitude in Belfast, Shels would go on to compete in the final again the following year in Dalymount Park, this time facing Belfast Celtic.

So it was, on the 28th of April 1906, a brace from James Owens saw a tremendous crowd rush the Dalymount pitch, as Shelbourne became champions of the IFA Cup, their first All-Ireland cup success, with a 2-0 win over their Belfast counterparts. It was a victory that went on to herald the long and fruitful history of the club we know today.

Though the proposed move to Phibsborough has been met with a reluctant mood from some Shels fans for many reasons, the club’s geographical history has showed that an unknown future can have many possibilities, all of which will be decided ultimately by their endeavours on the pitch, no matter where that pitch is.

Although sometimes known for being one half of electronic music group White Collar Boy, Gavin White is a football writer who provides his thoughts on football from an Irishman’s perspective for Extratime and Terrace. He is a fan of Shelbourne Football Club

Main image: mapio.net

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