Posted: 3/23/2007


    Shelbourne FC or SHELS, formed in 1895, should be smiling with Irish Eyes, having won the League of Ireland EIRCOM PREMIER LEAGUE three of the last four seasons, but due to financial mismanagement they were relegated to League 1 this season, even after getting 62 points, and now playing the likes of Athlone Town, Kilkenny, Kildare County, Finn Harps, Wexford Youths...

    On the eve of the first soccer match at 82,000 seat Croke Park I went along to Tolka Park, the small stadium that they share with Shamrock Rovers, to see them host Dundalk from up the coast. The fans have not deserted them-about 3,000 showed up, not bad for Ireland where more fans take the cheap flights and ferries to support Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Celtic and other pro teams across the sea than show up in Irish stadiums.

   ULTRAS BRIOGAD DEARG and other signs flourished, and even a giant banner and Italian style red flares in the New Stand where the passionate congregated. Leo Burdocks Traditional Fish & Chips were on sale at both ends of the ground  and banners from lots of sponsors such as Dulux Paints, Westbrook Motors, Nivea for Men, Dublin Bus. The home team, in red jerseys, had enthusiasm, and everything but ability, as they succumbed 0-2 to Dundalk whose fans were singing  ''We all play for a black and white team'' sung to the Beatles Yellow Submarine tune. Dundalk had to play the last 30 minutes with only 10 men, so it was a great win for them.

   On the 16A bus down the Drumcondra Road I had met Helge and his 7 Norwegian companions, in from Oslo Torp Airport on Ryanair for the weekend looking to see some soccer and share some pints. I told them about the prayer said in churches on the East coast of England and Scotland ''God save us from the Vikings'', (although I think the natives started to relax a few years ago!!). Also sitting with us in the Main Stand was Sean O''Toole, a little red headed 12 year old and his 15 year old brother David who evidently was ''an awesome striker'' for the Shels youth teams.They get a good catholic education at Christian Brothers Academy.  The seating was in various garish blocks of red, blue, yellow and after some rain storms off season (The league plays a summer rather than winter schedule), volunteers had come to repair and paint Tolka.  Jim Bolton in the official programme stated "We''re coming up, I want the world to know", after the recent finacial trauma.  Most of the better paid players had to leave, and there are no well paid Italians, Frenchmen or Spaniards here. Looking down the roster you read names such as Brophy, Byrne, Collins, Ennis, Harte, Moran, Murphy, O'Neil, O''Dowd, O'Reilly, Ryan, Rafferty, Walsh...

    I was staying at Mrs. Suttons neat B & B near Howth, the end of the line for the DART light rail line. Eggs, bacon, Irish sausages, soda bread and little black puddings-dried pigs blood, that I  always leave on the plate. Howth on the coast still has its traditional singing pub, The Abbey Tavern, but now boasts the likes of Casa Pasta, El Paso, De Gees Cafe - Swordfish, Tuna Steaks, Fillet of Salmon and Calamari, Lemongrass Asian Cuisine, and Porto Fino's. There was still Fischoffs of Howth's Fismongers, and one of the prettist train stations in Europe had The Bloody Scream Pub, a favourite of Richie Grant the Univ of Memphis coach-but of course he can wine and dine anywhere with a Division 1 salary and perks. Just kidding Richie. I kept looking around thinking you were here walking the streets, because they all speak like you.

   At the volunteer Lifeboat Station, one of the guys told me that they were called out about 50 times last year into the Irish Sea on rescue missions. Nearby is a fairly new memorial to all those lost at sea, opened by Mary Robinson the former Irish Prime Minister.