Shelbourne FC: Club History

As Shelbourne FC proudly celebrates its 129th anniversary, join us in exploring the storied legacy of our club.

James Rowan was a general labourer who, together with a group of friends, founded the club in the Shelbourne House hostelry on Grand Canal Street, Dublin in 1895. The pub still stands today, re-named Slatterys, just around the corner from James Rowans cottage at 9 Bath Avenue Place.

Our first games were played at nearby Havelock Square, with the first season being a massive success, losing only one game and winning the Leinster Junior Cup and League. Spurred on by this success, the Club joined the senior ranks of Irish football in 1897.

We went on to reach the final of the Irish Cup in 1905, losing to Distillery. However, in 1906, we became the first southern Irish club to win the trophy, beating Belfast Celtic 2-0. The team was led by Val Harris, who also played Gaelic football for Dublin and went on to make 190 appearances across the water with Everton FC. 

We won the National Cup again in 1911 and for a third time in 1920. In 1922, the Irish Free State was established and the new League of Ireland was subsequently founded, with Shelbourne FC becoming a founding member.

Our first trophy of this period came in 1926 by pipping local rivals Shamrock Rovers to the League of Ireland title.

It was not until 1939, just before the outbreak of World War Two, that we won our next trophy, running out 1-0 winners after replay victory over Sligo Rovers at Dalymount Park.

During this time up until 1949, we called Shelbourne Park in Ringsend our home. The club then went through a rather nomadic period, playing in Milltown (Shamrock Rovers’ ground) for the 49/50 & 50/51 seasons, before moving up the road to Dalymount from 1951-1954. Shelbourne Stadium, Irishtown was our next home until 1956, before finally settling back in Tolka in the early 60s.

In February 1957, we appointed the legendary Gerry Doyle as manager.

During this period, we won the League title once and the FAI Cup twice. The team also qualified for the European Cup, coming up against the likes of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Sporting Lisbon.

Many of our players from that particular side went on to win silverware for a host of clubs in the UK – most notably Tony Dunne, who played the full match in the final for Manchester United as they became the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968, beating Benfica 4-1.

In 1964, we reached the second round of the Fairs Cup (now the UEFA Cup). The team defeated Belenenses of Portugal in a play-off at Dalymount Park after two draws.

Between 1971 and 1992,  Shelbourne won the Leinster Senior Cup and the Shield.

However, this success was short lived, with the club going through significant financial difficulties and nearly going out of existence on several occasions.

In 1988, Pat Byrne was appointed Player Manager and laid the foundations for what was to become a major revival for the club. During the following four years, experienced players like Mick Neville, Jody Byrne and Gary Howlett teamed up with Gary Haylock, Padraig Dully, Greg Costello and Brian Flood to form one of the most exciting League of Ireland teams in years.

We proceeded to win the League Championship in 1992 for the first time in thirty years, with the squad playing a brand of football that was comparable to that of the great Shels team of the sixties. The following year, we won the FAI Cup, thus bridging another thirty-year wait for this particular piece of silverware.

At the start of the 1998/99 season, Dermot Keely was appointed Manager. Within two years, he had led the club to the League and Cup Double for the first time in the club’s 105 year history.

At the end of the 2001/2002 season, after winning  the league title for the second time in as many years, manager Dermot Keely stepped down and was succeeded by Pat Fenlon, an experienced member of the team’s playing squad, who had previously played with Chelsea.

In his first season as manager, Fenlon guided us to a respectable runners-up spot in the league, gaining a UEFA Cup qualification in the process. Despite elimination in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Cup the following season, Shelbourne went on to win their 11th league title and the club’s third title in four seasons. Fenlon made astute signings, including Jason Byrne from the Bray Wanderers, who became one of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of the league.

In 2004, we became the first Irish club to reach the third qualifying round of the Champions League, falling at the last qualifying hurdle at the hands of Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna. They finished the season as champions, winning back to back titles for the first time in the club’s history.

Despite winning the League title for the thirteenth time in 2006, the season will not be remembered for the club’s on-field activities. Cash-flow problems and mounting debts nearly forced the club out of existence. This led to the departure of most of our players.

The club was relegated to the first division, and the legendary Dermot Keely returned as manager in an effort to steady the ship in the midst of one of the club’s difficult times. We came close winning promotion to the Premier Division on a series of occasion between 2008 and 2010, before finally regaining entry to the top-flight in 2011, reaching the FAI Cup Final in the process, finally succumbing to Sligo Rovers on penalties.

The 2012 season saw our return to the Premier Division and another respectable cup run, losing to Derry in a replay at Tolka Park.

However, the return to the top-flight was short lived, with the club finishing bottom of the Premier Division table in 2013. The 2014 season saw the club finish in second place in the First Division, losing out to eventual champions Galway United.

Former player Owen Heary took up the reins in 2016. The 2018 season ended with Shelbourne in third place after losing to Drogheda United following a draw over two games. However, Heary brought the Leinster Senior Cup to the club for the second successive year.

In early 2019, Ian Morris joined the club as manager. He ended a highly successful career as a player with Leeds United, Scunthorpe United and others. In his first year as a professional coach, Morris guided us to promotion to the Premier Division, winning the league and finishing the seaon with a nine point cushion over second place.

The team was immediately relegated following the conclusion of the 2020 season, before bouncing straight back up to the Premier Division after again winning the First Division title in 2021.

The club then made the decision to replace Morris with Irish footballing legend Damien Duff before the start of the 2022 season. A period of steady progress has since ensued, with the club obtaining qualification to European football for the first time in 20 years at the conclusion of the 2023 season.

Shelbourne FC is one of Ireland’s leading clubs for women’s and girls’ football. Following an amalgamation with Raheny United’s highly-successful women’s team in 2015, the club entered the Women’s National League for the first time. In that first season, Shelbourne FC won the WNL Cup and finished runners-up in the League, Cup and Shield competitions. In the years since, the club has won the League three times, the FAI Cup twice and has never finished outside the top 3 places in the League. 

League wins in 2016, 2021 and 2022 have seen the club compete in the UEFA Women’s Champions League on three occasions. In 2016, Shelbourne FC won one game and drew the other two against Medyk Konin, PK Vantaa and Linfield FC, which ultimately was not enough to ensure progression. In 2022, the club traveled to Slovenia beating hosts, ŽNK Pomurje in the opening game. Shelbourne’s winning goal that day was scored by one of the most-capped players ever for the USA WNT, Heather O’Reilly. Unfortunately, the group final was lost to Valur of Iceland in the group final. In 2023, a loss against Glasgow City was followed by a victory against Cardiff City which saw Shelbourne taking third place in the group. 

Much of the success of the senior team can be attributed to the work of our Academy in developing young players, many of whom have gone on to play with our own team or other teams within the League of Ireland. At the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Shelbourne FC had 6 former players representing Ireland: Katie McCabe, Abbie Larkin, Jamie Finn, Chloe Mustaki, Izzy Atkinson and Ciara Grant. These are just 6 of the 20+ Irish Internationals that have played for the club over the years. 

LOI Premier Division Titles
FAI Cups
2024 Average Attendance
Years Old