Shels ready for 2024 season opener

Team news | Shelbourne v Waterford FC (A)

The wait is almost over for Shelbourne FC fans as the Reds are on the road tomorrow to face Waterford FC in the curtain raiser to the new League of Ireland Premier Division season (7:45pm KO)

Damien Duff’s side will travel to the RSC to face Keith Long’s newly promoted. The Reds rounded off pre-season with a convincing 7-0 win over Longford Town a week ago in Dublin.

Evan Caffrey and Sean Boyd both saw game time, which will provide Duff with a timely fitness boost ahead of the new season. After training in the AUL on Thursday, Duff delivered a fitness update to ShelbourneFC.ie:

“Everyone is fit but there are some guys who can get fitter, they are behind in pre-season because they are only coming back from injury now. Going into a game with everyone in contention to make the matchday squad, how often have I said that over my time here? It’s been rare, so a nice change.

“John Martin was the last to come back to back to training, he’s getting up to speed. John was unfortunate, 20 minutes into his first session he picked up an ankle injury, it was a shame because he actually started very brightly and we were looking thinking: ‘we’ve got a player here’ then the setback came. His recovery was fine and he’s back in the mix now.”

The sight of Matty Smith in Red will be one welcomed by fans after the talented Scottish attacker saw his game time in the latter part of the season  limited in 2023 due to injury. Smith has been in fine form in pre-season, scoring three goals as the Reds swept Longford aside 7-0. Duff was delighted to see Smith show signs he’s coming back to his best:

“When Matty came in here during the summer of 2022 he lifted everyone, I reference that a lot with him, you forget it’s not down to form or ability we didn’t see the best of Matty yet, he’s had chronic injuries for a year. He is a top player in this league, people would be wrong to forget that. It’s all about us managing him now, getting to know whet he feels he needs. Matty had an operation at the end of last season, he’s come back strong. I am over the moon for him not just to see him score a hat-trick but to see how much he’s enjoying being back and working hard, the most encouraging thing is over the last few weeks he’s telling me, he’s feeling great, 

The Reds saw a number of players depart the club in the off season the most notable being the club captain Luke Byrne, who will miss attending a Shels game for the first time in six years this Friday night. Byrne retired due to a chronic knee condition. He’s left big boots to fill in the dressing room but Duff is confident there is enough leaders to step up: 

“Everyone knows how I feel about Luke, but lads have to step up, we brought big character in during the off season. We also have guys who are already there that are leaders and will step up, Sean Boyd, Paddy Barrett, Mark Coyle who is club captain, then the signings, Keith Ward is non stop noise anyway, John O’Sullivan has a big presence, lots of experience, and leading isn’t all just talking. Liam Burt and Will Jarvis, they are leaders, sometimes you don’t speak to inspire others, its just ability, we have different characters and a great dressing room and we’ll manage it well.”

With the addition of Will Jarvis, Lorcan Healy, Sean Gannon, Keith Ward, Dean Williams, John Martin, and John O’Sullivan, and Liam Burt, Duff has considerably strengthened the squad ahead of the new season. Duff feels it is the strongest squad he’s had since taking charge at Tolka Park:

“Is it the strongest? That’s there for everyone to see, it’s the best squad I’ve had at Shels, probably the best squad we’ve had as a club in 15+ years, they are a great group, brilliant mentality, individually we have game changers. It’s up to you fans to have discussion over a pint and compare it with squads down the years, when was the last time we had a squad as strong. We all feel we’re in a really strong position going into the new season, it’s all well having a good squad the challenge then is finding your best XI and picking up results week in, week out.”

Duff feels one of the biggest changes will be the quality they can hold in reserve week to week with more bench options than previous years: “We’ve a bench now, and there’ll be a bit of learning in managing that for me, there’s some really good players who won’t start, but it’s not about keeping everyone happy, we’ll do what we always have here.

“The best XI and who deserves to start, will start. You don’t get handed starts for no reason at Shelbourne Football Club or on ability alone, it’s about consistently performing week in, week out, in training, on match day, on and off the pitch. The flip side, this is the most exciting thing we’ve had in 2 years, you see top teams making 3 changes on 60 minutes, then another couple then on 80 mins bringing in players who could change a game. We are there now, we could do that, we have a bench with depth, there’ll be real quality and people who can come on and completely change games and it’s exciting for us.” 

Brian McManus left the Reds yesterday to join Bohs this week, Duff spoke warmly of the departing midfielder affectionately nicknamed Frank by his teammates:

“We’ve let 35-40 people go over the two years here and Brian was the hardest one, we all loved him, players, staff and fans, he has relations in the club, it’s a family affair for him, but we’re honest. This is best for both parties. I couldn’t promise Brian a lot of football and Bohemians could promise him that. It worked out well for him, and for us and we look forward to playing them. He’s a good player, he needs game time, that wasn’t something we could promise, it’s very simple.”

Brian McManus also spoke to ShelbourneFC.ie before departing this week, his parting message to Reds fans was: “I really enjoyed playing in front of the Shels fans, Tolka has been my home for three and a half years. I obviously just wish I played a bit more. Injuries stalled me but I loved every moment of it, it was a honour to play with Shels, I’ve made friends for life at the club and I’ll miss it, but I hope Shels fans will understand, I am trying to get my career on track after some injury setbacks and this move gives me the best chance to do that. Thank you for support”

Tickets

Tickets for the Reds upcoming clash with Waterford available here: https://www.eticketing.co.uk/waterfordfc/Authentication/Login?groupref=1&digest=cf758d267b926830ba7a7919dbd8208c1cda43c73769a7a76c40cb97e507355f

TV

Watch all the action on LOITV, coverage begins from 7:30pm with kick off at 7:45pm.

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