Shelbourne seems redemption against Sligo
Shelbourne play Sligo Rovers in the FAI Cup Final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin this Sunday
The FAI Cup final, the end of season showcase at the association’s national stadium in Dublin, serves as a somewhat poetic bookend to Shelbourne’s problems and a welcome launching pad for their return to the top flight.
Having played in front of crowds of sometimes less than 500 people this year, it will surely be a somewhat surreal moment for the players to line out on Sunday in front of a crowd which should be, at least, 30 or 40 times larger.
Sligo Rovers reached the final following a semifinal victory over Bohemians and will rightly be considered favorites to retain their trophy.
However, a strong showing from Shelbourne over two ties against premier division outfit, and long time Dublin rivals, St. Patrick’s Athletic in the other semifinal will mean the Shels players and fans will go into the tie quietly confident they can cause an upset.
Over the course of 180 minutes Shels more than matched a St. Pat’s side that, on paper, were heavily favored when the draw was made. The sides played out a 1-1 draw at Tolka Park before Shelbourne came out eventual 3-1 winners after the replay in Inchicore.
Under manager Paul Cooke, Sligo have been one of the league’s most successful sides, finishing second in this year’s Premier Division and doing so playing a quick, skillful passing game which has won many admirers around the league.
If they can play to their capabilities on Sunday then it will certainly be a challenge for Shels to contain their attacking threat.
The Sligo midfield duo of Richie Ryan and Joseph N’Do, a veteran of two World Cup campaigns with Cameroon, will be Sligo’s main strength as they serve to dictate the tempo of the team’s quick passing game.
Shelbourne will have to hope that their key players, such as midfielders David Cassidy and Kevin
Dawson, will be able to carry on their recent rich vein of form to combat the influence of Ryan and N’Do.
If Shelbourne can frustrate Sligo and limit their ability to implement their brand of free flowing, attacking football then there will be hope that they can spoil Sligo’s party.
That’s a prospect that can never be ruled out with the prolific Philly Hughes leading the line with 20 league goals in 30 appearances this season, and the aforementioned David Cassidy enjoying the kind of season that might soon have the Shels faithful petitioning for his canonization.
While Sligo will expect to leave Dublin 4 as cup champions, there is little doubt which set of supporters will find the day more meaningful in the greater scheme of things.
Having survived a brush with death and faced their own morality more often than they will care to admit, Shelbourne will likely appreciate this cup final more than the previous 18 which they have contested.
Following five long years of playing games in empty stadiums around the Ireland’s rural towns, often in front of little more than a handful of diehard supporters, the moment of redemption at the Aviva Stadium in front a crowd of somewhere between 20-30,000 people will serve to go someway to soothe the wounds of their recent trials.
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