Shelbourne Head Coach Damien Duff has a near fully fit squad to choose from ahead of the season opener against Drogheda United tomorrow night at Tolka Park.
Shane Griffin is nursing a muscular injury that has the defender a doubt for the first competitive game of the 2023 League of Ireland campaign. Aside from that Duff’s squad has wintered well.
Duff told ShelbourneFC.ie: “Our two long term injuries are out still, the good news though is that Conor Kane is making progress, he’s back running which gave us all a big boost to see Conor on the grass. He’s brilliant, we all think the world of Conor. It’s really pleasing to see him step up in his recovery.
“Jad Hakiki is still out, listen it’s been a long road for him, he’s doing light work at the moment though. Shane Griffin has a slight muscular problem and will be a doubt for tomorrow. Luke Byrne went off in our last friendly, Luke has been dealing with a knee issue, but he’s ready to go now. Luke, fans know Luke well now, Luke is never a doubt, he is a warrior, he puts his body on the line. Luke is fit and available.”
The Reds developed a compelling rivalry with Drogheda United in 2022, as the Louth club provided a haven for many former Shels players to settle down. Assessing the challenge awaiting his side tomorrow Duff said:
“There’s certainly a rivalry there with Drogheda United, that’s alive and kicking and flared up a few times last year. We’re familiar with them and expect a tough game from Drogheda. This point so early on, start of the season we’re concentrating on ourselves and our game plan and getting it right, we won’t be too focused on the opposition.
“Rivalry is a good thing, but we have to focus on the task at hand, three points, don’t get involved in any shenanigans on the bench or the sideline. Cool and calm heads.
Duff strengthened his squad during the off season with the arrival of Paddy Barrett, Tyreke Wilson, Conor Kearns, Evan Caffrey, Kyle Robinson, Andrew Quinn, and Cian Leavy, while Matty Smith completed a permanent move from Derry. The Reds boss is pleased with how his squad is shaping up:
“In the league there’s always a big turnover in squads, we had 15 out and 15 in before the start of last year, it’s a huge challenge to try and build a team in that scenario. I don’t want to have to do that again, so if I’ve put a year’s work into a player, and they’re going in the right direction, I want to keep them here and keep improving.
“We’ve kept 18 players from 2022. We had 6 out the door and 7 in. It’s left us now with a stronger squad and a much stronger bench. Last year we didn’t always have options off the bench, I don’t think we’ll have that issue this time around with the player’s brought in.
“We’ve a lot up top in terms of attacking players, good options for 10s and then the physicality and size of Sean Boyd, he’s a nightmare for defenders. Kyle Robinson has come in, he’s got raw pace, defenders in this league don’t like that. Then at the back end we’ve made some changes and added reinforcements there in quality players.”
“The additions will help us this year. I think the team growing is a big thing for me, they’re a year older, that experience is vital, people can easily forget we’re still a really young team one of the youngest in the league. Our average age in the squad was the same as UCD, everyone is aware of their age profile but it seemed to be missed that we had a very young group and still do.
“We had some really strong performances particularly at the last round of games last season, which didn’t always turn in to results. We’d be looking to improve on that. Cutting out individual mistakes is a big thing. Being more clinical up the top end. We want to see performances of course and I was happy with the growth of the team across the 2022 season, the big thing now is results. Really good performances, yeah, great but listen I’d be just as happy to win ugly and start putting points on the board from tomorrow.”
The Reds completed their pre-season campaign with a 1-1 draw away to Galway, across January Duff’s side registered wins against Bray, Longford, Athlone and Drogheda. The Dubliner felt they got what was needed out of pre-season:
“The main aim of pre-season is fitness and conditioning, getting the new bodies up to speed, we need them used to how we play and how we press teams. Aligned with that, it’s good to win games, and the competitive nature of the business is to win games even in pre-season.
“We had good results, we wanted to see the team continue to grow and gel together and I’m pleased with that aspect. You get nothing for friendlies though, they’re quickly forgotten, tomorrow evening under the lights, that’s when the real business starts.”
Shels announced on Thursday afternoon that the club has surpassed our record for season ticket sales.
Attendances in the League of Ireland have dramatically risen since 2019, the last full season with crowds before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then Shelbourne FC have shown the biggest increase in Ireland, with average attendances at Tolka Park in 2022 up an incredible 172% from 2019. Duff is pleased to see the club on an upward trajectory:
“I’m delighted the season ticket record was broken today,” Duff said.
“I love to see a full Tolka Park. When I look back at old footage and the European nights and I see the place packed, the footage is amazing, seeing the new stand jammed, brilliant.
“I love to see the place alive and bouncing and if I was to say anything to the people who are coming to support us week in, week out, I’d ask them to bring a friend along for a game. It’s a special place. Get your mate down with you on a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon, I think they’ll enjoy it, the league is growing here and we want new people to embrace it.
“We’ll play our part, we need to do it on pitch and give people something to shout about. I just want to see the place full. That’s what it’s all about. I’m passionate about the league and Shels is my club and there’s more than a few times last year that we needed our supporters and they are our 12th man and am positive will continue to be across the season in 2023 as well.”
Tickets for the Reds upcoming League of Ireland game are available online here: https://shelbournefc.ie/tickets-2/
Watch all the action on LOI TV, every League of Ireland Premier Division fixture is available to watch for €7 and the season pass is back.
Commentary from Adam Leonard and Shels icon Tony Sheridan.