Shelbourne FC is a leading Irish professional football club with an illustrious past and a hugely exciting future. The club is a true Dublin institution, having been formed 125 years ago next year, in 1895. Shelbourne has won the national title 13 times and the national cup 11.
Origins and early years
The club was founded by James Rowan, a general labourer, and a few of his friends in the Shelbourne House hostelry on Grand Canal Street, Dublin, where a collection took place to buy the clubs first set of gear. The pub still stands today, re-named Slatterys and is just around the corner from James Rowans cottage at 9 Bath Avenue Place.
The clubs first games were played at nearby Havelock Square on the central patch of ground which remains today.
The clubs first season was a huge success, with Shels losing only one game and winning the Leinster Junior Cup and League. Spurred on by this success, in 1897 Shelbourne joined the senior ranks of Irish football. In its first season as a senior club Shels finished second in the Leinster Senior League and reached the Leinster Senior Cup final. At this time the club played its home matches in Clonskeagh, often playing against British army teams such as the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Infantry Rifles.
1900 to establishment of the Irish Free State
The club reached the final of the Irish Cup in 1905, losing to Distillery. However the following year, 1906, saw Shels become the first southern Irish club to win the trophy, beating Belfast Celtic 2-0. That day Shelbourne were Captained by the legendary Val Harris, who played Gaelic football for Dublin and soccer for, among others Shelbourne, Everton and Ireland. Harris was regarded as one of the finest soccer players of his generation and in 1906 became the first Shelbourne player capped by Ireland. In 1913 he captained the first Ireland team to beat England and in 1914 he was a member of the Ireland team that won the British Home Championship.
Shels won the national Cup again in 1911 and for a third time in 1920, before the establishment of the Irish Free State saw the setting up of the League of Ireland, of which Shels were a founder member.
Independence until World War Two
Shels first trophy in this period came in 1926, when the club won the League of Ireland for the first time, beating local rivals Shamrock Rovers into second place.
It was not until 1939, just before the outbreak of World War Two, that Shels won its next silverware, the FAI Cup, in a 1-0 replay victory over Sligo Rovers at Dalymount Park.
The War Years and The 1950s
From the outbreak of the Second World War until 1949 Shels home ground was at Shelbourne Park Stadium, close to where the club was founded. During this period the club played at Dalymount Park Stadium and various other locations.
The 60s – the Remarkable Gerry Doyle Years
In February 1957 the club appointed the legendary Gerry Doyle as manager. Doyle went on to assemble one of the most exciting teams in the League of Ireland.
During this period Shelbourne won the League Championship once and the F.A.I. Cup twice, then qualifying for Europe where they met some of the top clubs in Europe including Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Sporting Lisbon. Some of the Shelbourne players at that time who went on to win International caps were Tony Dunne – who went on to win a European Cup medal with Manchester United – Freddie Strahan, Christy Doyle, Eric Barber, Jackie Hennessy and Tommy Carroll.
In 1964 Shelbourne reached the second round of the Fairs Cup (now the UEFA Cup) when they defeated Belenenses of Portugal in a play-off at Dalymount Park after two draws between the sides.
Decline in the Seventies and Eighties
Between 1971, when Shelbourne won the Leinster Senior Cup and the Shield and 1992 the Club went through its leanest period and its very existence was threatened on several occasions.
The Glory Years Return – 1992 to 2006
In 1988 however Pat Byrne was appointed Player-Manager and he was to lay the foundations for what was to become a major revival in the fortunes of the club. It took him four years to get the blend he wanted with experienced players like Mick Neville, Jody Byrne and Gary Howlett teaming up with Gary Haylock, Padraig Dully, Greg Costello and Brian Flood to form one of the most exciting League of Ireland teams for years.
Shelbourne won the League Championship in 1992 for the first time in thirty years with a brand of football that was comparable to that played by the great Shelbourne team of the Sixties. The following year Shelbourne won the FAI National Cup and this win also bridged a thirty-year gap since the club last won this trophy.
Dermot Keely was appointed Manager at the start of the 1998/99 season and led the club to the Double in the season 1999/2000, for the first time in the clubs 105 year history.
At the end of season 2001/2002 season, after Shelbourne had won the league title for the second time in two years, manager Dermot Keely decided to step down.
There was great interest in the managerial vacancy at Tolka Park but the club decided to appoint Pat Fenlon as Player-Manager. Pat Fenlon was a vastly experienced player having played with Chelsea as well as Shelbourne and some other League of Ireland clubs. In his first season as manager, he took Shelbourne to runners-up spot in the league and UEFA Cup qualification. If his first season was good, his second was even better. Despite elimination in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Cup, Shels went on to win their 11th league title and the clubs third title in four seasons. Pat Fenlon made some astute signing, not least that I f Jason Byrne from Bray Wanderers. Jason turned into one of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of the league.
In 2004 Shelbourne became the first Irish club to reach the third qualifying round of the Champions League, only to be eliminated by Deportivo La Coruna despite heroic performances at home and away. Despite a tough season in which they played eight matches in Europe, manager Pat Fenlon kept the players focused and they finished the season as Champions, winning back to back titles for the first time in the club’s history.
A ‘Temporary’ Visit to Division One
Despite winning the League title for the thirteenth time in 2006, the season will not be remembered for the clubs on-field activities. The club found itself with serious cash-flow problems and mounting debts which nearly forced the club out of existence and led to the departure of most of its players. Shelbourne were eventually granted a First Division licence and, under the management of the returning Dermot Keely, started life in the First Division. In 2008, 2009 and again in 2010 the club came close to promotion back to the Premier League. Promotion was achieved to the Premier Division in 2011 however and the club also reached the FAI Cup Final.
Season 2012 saw Shelbournes return to the Premier Division. The Club also reached the Cup semi-finals, losing to Derry in a replay at Tolka Park. In May 2013, after just two seasons back in the Premier Division, the club was relegated to the First Division for the 2014 season. Season 2014 saw the club finish in second position in the league, but failed to gain promotion, losing out to Galway United in the play-off. Another former player and holder of the record for club appearances at the club, Owen Heary, took up the reins in 2016. The task was great for Heary, but despite this the 2018 season ended with Shelbourne in third place in the league, but losing out on penalties to Drogheda United in the promotion play offs following an aggregate 2-2 score draw over two games. However Heary brought silverware to the club for the second successive year, by winning the Leinster Senior Cup for the second time.
Ian Morris and The Return to Glory
In early 2019 Ian Morris joined the club as manager, ending a highly successful career as a player with Leeds United, Scunthorpe United and others. In his first year as a professional coach Morris guided Shelbourne to promotion to the Premier Division, winning the league by nine points. Morris has assembled a young and highly talented squad of players who play an attractive and attacking style of football which promises to bring back the club’s glory years. So a young and dynamic squad of Shelbourne players will compete for the Premier Division title in the 2020 season, a year in which the club celebrates it’s 125th anniversary.