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Fights in the showers, porn on the bus and winners on the pitch - How Shels made Double history in 2000

Pat Scully, Paul Doolin, Richie Baker, Dave Campbell and Alan Mathews reveal all about the team that started a dynasty in Drumcondra.

The Baker brothers, Dessie (left) and Richie.
The Baker brothers, Dessie (left) and Richie.
Image: Andrew Paton/INPHO

THE FLIGHT HOME was a happy one.

St Patrick’s Athletic had secured a famous 0-0 draw with Celtic, setting up the tantalising prospect of an upset in the return leg of their Champions League qualifier in Dublin.

The Saints players were more than content with a hard night’s work and were informed by chief executive-cum-manager Pat Dolan that they would have to report to training first thing the following morning.

This was not a time for celebrating.

So, they settled in for the short hop back across the Irish Sea. Some dozed off, others were still wired with adrenaline. All, though, realised something was amiss when the plane touched down.

They were in northern England – not Dublin – and waited on the tarmac to pick up another batch of passengers.

The Shelbourne squad, fresh from their 5-3 defeat to Rangers in Uefa Cup qualifying that same July night in 1998, boarded in dribs and drabs. Some of their party were a little bit worse for wear. On board refreshments would not be required.

Due to security concerns, Shels’ tie had been played at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park on Merseyside, where the Reds almost pulled off a stunning victory.

ollie-byrne Shels chief Ollie Byrne. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Leading 3-0 approaching the hour mark, Rangers rallied with a goal straight away before netting four times in an 11-minute spell.

This was before the introduction of summer football in the League of Ireland so both sets of players were in the midst of pre-season.

Just a couple of months previously, St Pat’s edged Shels to the title by a single point in the most dramatic of circumstances on the final day.

Now they were sharing a plane home together on another night of complete contrasts.

Great rivals they may have been, this arrangement was thrashed out as part of the deal to allow St Pat’s use Tolka Park for the visit of Celtic because their own home, Richmond Park, wasn’t sufficient.

On the pitch, though, Dolan’s side were the ones viewed as more streetwise, capable of marrying technical ability with grit to get the job done. As they proved by securing back-to-back league titles at the end of that 1998-99 campaign.

Shels were a cup team, lifting the FAI Cup three times between 1993-1997, with a league title in ’92 preceding that.

Dermot Keely, who took over as manager in ’98, set about changing all that.

Within a year he did, securing a league and cup double for the first time in the club’s storied history.

dermot-keely-742000 Alan Mathews (left) embraces manager Dermot Kelly when Shels won the league. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the first manager of Shelbourne to win the double. That means something. We got nothing last year because we weren’t honest. That all changed this year and we got everything,” Keely told The Irish Independent at the time.

Inspired by Ollie Byrne, Shels would claim five league titles from 2000 to 2006. The pursuit of Champions League qualification and the subsequent spending would lead the club to the brink of ruin but, 20 years on from that Double, it was the start of a Dynasty in Drumcondra.

So, how did they do it?

And who did they do it with?

Richie Baker was the bright young thing in the League of Ireland heading into the new Millennium.

The 18-year-old from Tallaght, whose older brother Dessie starred in attack alongside the legendary Stephen Geoghegan, was the PFA Ireland young player of the year for 1999.

A new contract afforded the tee-total winger the chance to upgrade his prized Peugeot 106. “I got a 206, delighted with life,” he beams.

That Peugeot 206 would be used to taxi teammates around Dublin during nights out and then at the end of the night to make sure they got home safely.

But it was the trips on the team bus to and from games around the country that Baker really had his eyes opened.

“Those first two years on the scene, they were crazy. We’d all have a giggle on the way to games, but it was serious, you knew you were going to do a job,” Baker tells The42.

“Once you got your work done it was time to enjoy yourself. On the way home, there would be poker going, boys would have their trays of cans, they would have their dirty films.

“This stuff was a little bit stronger than Eurotrash, I remember thinking: ‘what the fuck is going on?’ Noel White, Dermot’s second in command, he would be absolutely snapping. He was a real big Catholic and he would be going mad at us: ‘turn that crap off.’

“Dermot didn’t give a shite, but things did change during that season and we started doing things more professionally.

“We wouldn’t be eating shite on the bus, we would have pasta and chicken and I remember a television crew following us down to Cork away because Dermot was able to convince Ollie to let us stay over the night before in a hotel.

“But fucking hell, there were some characters in our team.”

pat-fenlon-5121999 Pat Fenlon scored the winner in the FAI Cup final replay against Bohs. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

Dave Campbell, defender and occasional midfielder in Keely’s eyes, simply laughs as sone of Baker’s memories are relayed to him. “He was a boy in a man’s dressing room.”

Paul Doolin was 36 and one of those signed by 44-year-old Keely to change that culture of Shels being the nearly men. The veteran Dubliner slotted straight into the heart of the midfield alongside Pat Fenlon and brought a steel both on and off the pitch.

“He is one of the straightest people I have ever met,” Campbell begins. “Everyone knew where they stood with him.

If he thought you were a c**t, he told you that you were a c**t. You didn’t hear it from someone else. We lost to Drogheda in the League Cup early in that season and he was down the back of the bus abusing players for their weight, their fitness, how they trained.

“Whether he was right or wrong, he told them what he thought and there was a tear up. That’s how it was.”

Two decades on and Doolin retains that same distinct sense of right and wrong. “Going down the pub for pints and to talk rubbish is no good to sort things out,” he believes.

“You need to do it away from that. Have a meeting, talk face to face straight up with no beer talk. You know you are in a team with good fellas when you have your head in a meeting properly to sort things out.

“You have to be true and have honesty because when you set off to something you need everyone in it together. There can be too much spin, not just in football but every walk of life.

“Spin things too much and you get the kind of positivity that is delusional.”

paul-doolin-and-pat-scully-1972000 Paul Doolin (left) with captain Pat Scully. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

Doolin won the fifth Double of his career at the end of that season with Shels and, while he was the most decorated and experienced member of the squad, he is not the one who wore the armband.

Pat Scully had that responsibility, a fearsome and dedicated centre back who had a unique way of preparing for matches. “I always loved watching horror films that morning,” he reveals.

“I love The Shining. I am very intense with football and found that watching a horror would help me to switch off and relax to get away from things. Blair Witch Project was another one. If I was too intense, I found it would get the better of me on the pitch.

“Horror films were a way for me to escape, I needed that.”

Scully was one of the survivors from Shels’ last day horror show away to Dundalk in ’98 when, needing only a point to win the title, they lost at Oriel Park to allow St Pat’s take the glory.

“That was a real low point, it was extremely painful,” Scully admits. “You have to try and use it to make you stronger. I think it helped steel us for what was to come.

Dermot came and instilled more of a work ethic around the club. If you wanted to win the league you needed to have more than individuals. You are always going to have off days as a team and if you only have individuals you will struggle,” he continues.

“You need players to take responsibility together to get through those off days. And that’s what we had with Dermot, we had a very strong group that were mentally strong and in it together.”

Alan Mathews, another of Keely’s right-hand men alongside Noel White, lists the first-choice starting XI without skipping a beat.

“Steve Williams in goal. Owen Heary was coming through at right back. Pat Scully and Tony McCarthy centre halves, Declan Geoghegan was probably the best left back in the league.

“Midfield you had Paul Doolin and Pat Fenlon, on the right was Richie Baker, on the left was James Keddy. Then up front you had Dessie Baker and Stephen Geoghegan.

stephen-geoghegan-1122000 Legendary striker Stephen Geoghegan. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

“Dermot would leave the coaching to Noel and myself. Noel was a great man, this was 20 years ago and he was one of the few men in the country with a full A Licence from the SFA (Scottish Football Association).

“He did his badges with Alex Ferguson and when we played Rangers we trained for three days at [Manchester] United’s training ground at Carrington. United worked on the pitch next to us.

“Noel was the one who actually introduced Dermot to Ferguson. He would oversee things and sign off on what we wanted to do in the sessions.”

Or, as Campbell says slightly more colourfully: “Dermot’s description was ‘coaching me bollox, all you need are four cones and a whistle’. A weaker manager would have struggled with the personalities we had but not Dermot,” Campbell adds.

This was a time before GPS stats, thorough video analysis or just being able to produce individual clips for players to study before games.

“But Dermot always got it absolutely right in terms of opposition, where they were strong and where they were weak,” Mathews insists.

We might get a tape of someone playing a couple weeks previously but Dermot would rely on his knowledge of the game and his understanding of what was needed. He always knew how to work the emotion of the players.”

That’s not to say that Shels, who would go on to lift the league trophy with 11 points to spare ahead of runners up Cork City, were easy on the eye.

They only lost two games all season but did draw on 12 occasions, including two goalless encounters with Drogheda United, who finished the campaign bottom. “Jesus Christ, we could be a dour side. We could draw with anyone,” Campbell laughs.

Shels went the first 20 games unbeaten, eventually losing 1-0 away to Derry City. It would be their only defeat before winning the league, Shamrock Rovers inflicting a second defeat after the title celebrations and before the FAI Cup final with Bohemians.

They only scored 49 goals in 33 games, conceding just 20 times, and goalkeeper Steve Williams, another Keely signing, would prove a central figure in the build up to that cup final with Roddy Collins’ Bohs.

“We were not a free flowing side but we knew how to get what we needed,” Campbell adds.

Dermot would be safe, he would play me in midfield ahead of Carel van der Velden sometimes. Now I could do a job in there defending but Carel was a better player in that position. The only problem with Carel is that he was a headcase!”

The Dutchman, also signed by Keely, was thrown out of a club house in Artane for throwing too many parties. “Turned out he moved into the Skylon Hotel and Ollie was sent the bill when he left,” Campbell adds, before another anecdote springs to mind straight away.

“He is the only person I have ever known to have a sponsored car repossessed,” he bellows with more laughter. “It was before training, we saw him arguing with some fella in the car park out in the Sportslink and it was taken away.

“Then he just strolls in not a bother and asks if anyone can give him a lift. He was a mad man, he just didn’t care, sure he would go on nights out on his own when he wanted.”

paul-doolin-colin-hawkins-10121999 Doolin tackles Colin Hawkins of St Patrick's Athletic. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

If he did have company it would often be Dessie Baker or maybe Greg Costello. “There were messers in the team but they were on their own planet,” Richie Baker, also laughing, continues.

“And Carel was on a different planet again. He came in and thought he was Eric Cantona. He was one of the mad ones, he loved the gargle and was mad as a brush.”

For the younger of the Baker siblings, 1999-00 was also a chance for him to build on the reputation he made for himself in his breakthrough campaign the previous season.

Ollie Byrne and Keely challenged him to repeat his performances to be crowned PFAI young player of the year, a challenge he completed successfully.

I was just eager to impress. One of my first sessions we were doing some running and I was in a group with Stephen Geoghegan. I went flying off, miles ahead and was a lap in front. Time was called and we went back into our groups.

“He pulled me to one side and said: ‘if you ever do that again I’ll break your legs, don’t make a show of me you little bollox’. It was said in a nice way, though, he was a character and a half, fucking brilliant, like all the lads.

“You were never pushed away because you were younger. You were challenged to be a better player and deliver for the team.”

It was the sort of competitive atmosphere fostered by Keely, one in which he was not shy about confrontation. “He would square up to you if needed,” Baker continues.

“I was lucky, we got on straight away and never had issues with him but others would. I remember him and Pat Fenlon squaring up in the showers at Tolka Park. Ah yeah, the boys in the showers and there was murder going on, screaming and shouting at each other.

“He wasn’t an arm around the shoulder manager with anyone, he was always ready for a fight but it worked with those players because we all wanted more and more success and to be better.

pat-scully-742000 Pat Scully lifts the league trophy. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“You’d have a row and once you could say ‘fuck you, I tried my best’, that is what mattered. Maybe if it wasn’t like that it wouldn’t have been same. We wanted to be the best and there weren’t too many times when Dermot would put an arm around you and say ‘well done’. That isn’t the manager he was.

“I gave everything I could. If I got kicked and smashed up I would jump up and laugh about it and then wait until I was away so I could pretend to be bending over to get my breath. But I’d be in bits.

“When the [Shamrock] Rovers fans would sing about me and Dessie I would sing along with them and drive them mad. I fucking loved it when people would try to kick lumps out of me and break me up.

“It pushed me on more and more.”

An attitude Scully also relished. “When teams put it up to us, we didn’t back away, we went at them too and the cup final with Bohs was the perfect example of that. They were the better team in both games but we dug in and were able to win it.”

There was an added sense of drama, intrigue and just a little bitterness around the showpiece. Shels had secured the league title with a handful of games to spare and, on the eve of the replay at Dalymount Park – following a stalemate at Tolka – Bohs manager Roddy Collins revealed he was preparing a £35,000 bid for rival goalkeeper Williams.

If Manchester United can have three goalkeepers why can’t we? Williams is the best goalkeeper in the league and he will want to be at the best club. If we bring Steve on board it will add competition and only strengthen our squad,” he told the Irish Examiner.

“We are the fitter team and mentally and physically tuned in,” Collins said. “I am not exaggerating when I say every eventuality has been meticulously planned to the very last detail. I guarantee you that nothing that happens will take us by surprise.”

Pat Fenlon then struck in the first half and Bohs couldn’t muster a reply. “Roddy described us as like watching paint dry before the game,” Campbell recalls.

“So we were all in the dressing room singing ‘It’s just like watching paint dry’ through the walls so he could hear us.”

dermot-keely-552000 The Shels team, and manager Dermot Keely (centre) celebrate with the FAI Cup. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

Doolin adds: “What kept me going for so long was that desire to be competitive and be successful. I loved playing and I was lucky with injuries so that helped too but that group was all about winning so it was perfect for me.”

The veteran departed after the following season but, after beating Bohs on their own patch, it was back to Shels’ corner of north Dublin to celebrate.

In the Sunday Independent that weekend, under the headline ‘Shelbourne’s double delight owes huge debt to Byrne’s undying dedication’ and at the bottom of a page beneath match reports for Sunderland v West Ham and Leicester City v Bradford, as well as a couple of paragraphs on the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland U14s playing out a 2-2 draw, Martin Fitzpatrick described the scene back at Tolka Park, where the three bars in the ground were open.

“Most people were laughing, cheering, singing, slapping backs or otherwise celebrating. But one was working. He was pulling pints, collecting glasses and generally barking orders.

“That was the perennial Ollie Byrne, Shels’ company secretary and, more than anyone else, the fountain of Shelbourne passion.

There is a compelling argument that Ollie himself should have been the focus of the celebration. Because without him, Shels might not be around to celebrate anything, least of all a Double.”

“No one is quite sure if Byrne is the new champions’ greatest asset or their greatest liability – and he takes a mischievous pleasure in leaving them guessing.

“But his worst enemy is never in doubt about whose side he is on: ‘cut me open and I bleed Shelbourne,’ he says. While the revellers in Tolka were soaking in the unique experience – and a lot of beer – Ollie was already on his overused mobile phone dreaming up fresh ways to keep the bank happy.”

That Double was the start of a dynasty.

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