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Time to deliver: Shelbourne's new recruits ready to play their part in 2019 promotion push
Ian Morris has bolstered his squad during preseason and looks set to return Shels to the Irish top flight for the first time in six years.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 10th 2019, 9:30 AM

SHELBOURNE SIT ON the cusp of the new First Division season with a sense of renewed optimism.

After falling short in last year’s play-offs against Drogheda, the Dublin side have begun to reshape their team in the image of new manager, Ian Morris.

Former boss Owen Heary departed the club last October after just under a year and a half in charge, following the board of directors’s decision not to re-appoint the club legend.

During his time with the club as a player, Heary had won five Premier Division titles and an FAI Cup between 1998 and 2006.

“Getting to the play-offs this year was a particular high point of Owen’s tenure as coach and another was winning the Leinster Senior Cup in successive seasons,” the club said announcing his departure.

“Because of his long association with Shelbourne, as player and more recently as coach, Owen will always have a really special place in the hearts of all Shelbourne supporters.”

But here the sentimentality ends.

Shels are chasing a return to the top flight for the first time since 2013 and have identified former Bohs defender Morris as the man to bring them there.

“Make no qualms about it, our aim is to get promoted next year,” the 31-year-old said upon his arrival.

This will be reflected in the players and staff that are committing to our club for next year and beyond.”

Former Shamrock Rovers defender Luke Byrne joined the club during preseason alongside Conan Byrne, Oscar Brennan, Ryan Brennan and Dan Byrne.

Ciaran Kilduff, returning from his stint with Jacksonville Armada in the North American Soccer League, has also put pen to paper with the First Division side.

The two-time Premier Division winner with Dundalk has been seen as perhaps the coup of the window and now a return to the top flight seems well within the realms of possibility.

Ciaran Kilduff scores a goal Morgan Treacy / INPHO Ciaran Kilduff scores against Maccabi Tel Aviv to make history for Dundalk in the Europa League group stages. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Another recruited for Shelbourne’s push is Strabane native, Aidan Friel.

The former Athlone, Longford and Wexford man joins from Finn Harps where he made 20 appearances during their promotion-winning season last year.

With the tag of league favourites firmly fixed to the team, the 28-year-old said the decision to move was an easy choice.

“I would have heard a little about Shels and their history growing up and them having played Deportivo [in the Champions League qualifiers],” he tells The42.

“When I signed I had a lot of people who I wouldn’t normally have talked to called me up and say best of luck with it and were impressed that I’d signed for a big club.

“Definitely in terms of size and what the club wants to do – it’s the biggest club I’ve ever signed for.”

Despite the recruitment, Friel is reluctant to get too far ahead of himself and knows the investment that has been made is no guarantee of success.

A lot of fans are basing [favourite status] on players we’ve signed. You never know in the League of Ireland. When you’re signing players – you have to go out there and do the business.

“People like the fact that we might be favourites, but at the end of the day if you don’t go out there and back it up then there’s no point in being favourites at the start of the season.”

unnamed An image of the proposed redevelopment of Dalymount Park - soon to be the home of Bohemians and Shelbourne.

A return to the top flight will undoubtedly be a shot in the arm for the support base who have been faced with uncertainty in some aspects of the club’s future in recent years.

In 2017, the board of directors announced that they would be moving out of Tolka Park, the home of Shelbourne for the previous three decades and the site of some of the club’s greatest successes.

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Their move to a redeveloped Dalymount Park will mean the club will enter into a groundshare with city rivals, Bohemians. Keith Long’s side are set to play at Tolka Park in 2021 and 2022 before the 6,000-seater stadium opens in 2023.

Friel knows exactly important the support of the fanbase will be during a time of such upheaval.

You want a connection between the players and the fans. When you’re playing, there’s no doubt that they’re the ones giving you the extra boost, especially this time of year.

“There are certain clubs where you make that connection straight away. The Longford fans were amazing when I spent my time there.

“That was a real connection we had with the fans. Other clubs I’ve been at, it’s taken a little while to get that.

There are tough games in every season and you expect it’s going to be no different – particularly this year. [The supporters] are ones who help you a lot and who get you over the line, be it for promotion or trying to stay up.

“I haven’t had the chance to experience it yet [with Shels], but I know from playing their over the years that their fans have that connection with the players.”

Despite his involvement in the Irish Defence Forces team that have qualified for the CISM World Military Games in China in October, Friel remains fully committed to the cause.

A 3-0 defeat to St. Pat’s in their opening preseason friendly gave Morris a chance to see what his squad is capable of at the beginning of the month. Friday night saw them slump to defeat against Waterford United by the same scoreline.

Their first big test will come against Bohs as they begin the defence of their Leinster Senior Cup on 18 February. 

Then the real mission begins – their quest for promotion on 22 February begins at Eamonn Deacy Park with a visit to Galway United.

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