Shelbourne's Seán Boyd and his teammates celebrate winning on Friday night. Tommy Grealy/INPHO
Different Strokes

Shelbourne primed for title challenge as Duff hails 'different animals'

But St Patrick’s Athletic boss Jon Daly faces a different kind of battle to restore confidence at Richmond Park.

ONE OF THE benefits of the directors’ box at Richmond Park being right beside the press area is that some queries can be answered mid-match.

On Friday night, when Will Jarvis scored the second of his superbly-taken goals to secure a 2-1 win over St Patrick’s Athletic, there was some debate about whether his loan agreement with Hull City was for the entire Premier Division campaign or just until July when the busy summer window in the UK re-opens.

“It’s for the season. And we’re going to confiscate his passport so he can’t leave the f***ing country,” came the reply from one buoyant Shels staff member in the know.

Damien Duff already explained the intracies of managing the exciting winger after Jarvis proved the difference-maker in another 2-1 Dublin derby win over Shamrock Rovers at Tolka Park last month.

Although St Pat’s boss Jon Daly couldn’t contain his frustration at the manner in which Jarvi was allowed cut in from the left on his favoured right foot

“We need to learn quickly from it. We’ve a very good staff here who do a lot of work on the opposition and do a lot of analysis, sending out individual clips that players are playing against, so sometimes people have to take ownership of their own game as well.

“I will take responsibility because it’s my team being punished and conceding the goals we knew we were likely to concede.

Shels have not dropped points since the opening night draw away to Waterford and, while only six games into their own challenge, Duff’s men are the only unbeaten side remaining in the top flight.

“I’ve heard other managers say how hard it is to break Shels down and it certainly is,” Daly said. “It’s up to us to try and find that solution but we couldn’t do that.”

Very few have. Stretching back to last season when they finished strongly to secure a European spot, Shels have lost just once in 22 Premier Division games.

They’ve also won all three Dublin derbies – including a 2-0 victory away to Bohemians last week – this term, although Duff explained how Friday’s success came after racial abuse suffered by the side’s strength and conditioning coach during the warm-up.

Shels are now five points clear at the top of the table heading into the first international break. “It’s nice but it’s absolutely irrelevant. Sorry if that came across rude,” Duff said.

“It’s a wonderful pressure, that’s why I got back involved in football to have pressure. If I don’t have pressure in my life, sorry to keep reiterating the word, life’s not so good. I’ve obviously tasted it as a player and as a coach over at Celtic being at the top end challenging for trophies, I’ve also tasted three relegations in the Premier League which I probably played a big part in as well, especially Newcastle, I don’t think they’ve ever forgiven me.

“So it’s a pressure, it’s a different pressure, but it’s a brilliant pressure. Certainly our lads two years ago wouldn’t be in this position, and they wouldn’t have embraced the pressure; ie, the [FAI] Cup final. But this season they’re different animals and I’d like to think a bit more excited by pressure. If I had €100 for every time I said pressure, I’d be having a good night.”

jon-daly St Pat's boss Jon Daly. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Duff’s reference of that 4-0 defeat to Derry City in the 2022 showpiece was telling. It was a chastening day for the club and one that simply wouldn’t happen at this stage of the team’s development under their manager.

Of the starting XI from the Aviva Stadium only three had their place on Friday – JJ Lunney, Gavin Molloy and Sean Boyd.

Duff has overseen change in personnel but it hasn’t felt dramatic. Quality has been introduced in the final third with Jarvis returning for another spell after impressing last season, Liam Burt (on loan from Shamrock Rovers) and Matty Smith.

Boyd offers a focal point centrally, as illustrated by his assist for Jarvis’ second.

There is a balance and defensive solidity that is now beginning to be supplemented by more ruthlessness in the final third.

Yet for St Pat’s it feels as if the overhaul after a fine 2023 season under Daly has left the current crop almost unsure of what to expect and demand from each other.

Four defeats from their first six games highlight how difficult a transition it has been and Daly’s squad flew out to America yesterday for a friendly on Wednesday with MLS side Minnesota United that was arranged as part of the deal that saw Kenosis Sports Group become strategic investors of the League of Ireland club.

“Three of the four games we’ve lost could have gone either way. It’s about trying to find a way to get results. I’d much rather sit here having played poorly and win 2-1 than play OK and get beat,” Daly said.

“I said to the players, you have to try and find ways to win whatever game you’re playing, you have to have that nous to work out and find solutions. Unfortunately we came out on the wrong side of a narrow game.”

Daly remained steadfast in his “firm belief” he and his staff are working with players capable of rising up the table.

“There is no point in me just believing in them. They have to have that belief in themselves that they are good enough. We are very happy with the squad and the players we have so it’s just trying to get those couple of results that will give you the inner belief that you can go on a little run of games.

“I’d much rather be sat on the plane in the position Shels are in but we find ourselves where we are and we have to deal with that.”

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