Search icon


12th Mar 2022

Shelbourne strike late after showing they can mix with big boys




Shelbourne welcomed Dundalk under the lights in Tolka Park on a rainy Friday night in Drumcondra. The hosts ended with just a point, writes Emmet Phelan, but learned a lot about themselves in the process.

Having one win from their first four Premier Division games, facing off against a handy Dundalk side, this was another big test for a side that have only had brief flirtations with top flight football over the past decade. They may have 13 league titles on their honours board, but the Dubliners find themselves having to prove they can mix it with the current big dogs.

Shels boss Damien Duff opted with his preferred 5-3-2 formation in a team that included none of Shelbourne’s goalscorers so far this season, in a team that was looking for its first home goal of the league season. The strategy from the start seemed to be to allow Dundalk have possession in their own half, with confidence they would struggle to play through the crowded central areas of the pitch.

This proved largely effective with the tenacity of their midfield three and particularly combative midfielder Aodh Dervin sitting in front of the defence, who put up many duels on the night. Dundalk centre backs Andrew Boyle and Mark Connolly being allowed distribute from the halfway line under no serious pressure was symbolic of a reluctance of the home side to press high.

Shelbourne manager Damien Duff before the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match against Dundalk at Tolka Park. (Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile)

Hoban’s glancing header

Shelbourne certainly struggled to progress through the middle, preferring to use the aerial abilities of Sean Boyd as well as diagonal balls that looked to get wing-backs John Ross Wilson and Conor Kane into dangerous positions.

By the halfway point Dundalk had failed to create anything of real substance despite dominating territory. The only shot on target came from the vocal, cajoling Sam Bone, who fired a breaking ball at Shels goalkeeper Lewis Webb from 25 yards. Not long after, the biggest chance of the game fell to right back Wilson, who skied a cross from Kane over the bar.

The move of adding a centre back to the attack is a common transitional move for the five at the back and could be seen to validate Duffs use of the formation.

Both teams could have been assumed to have been told to ramp up the intensity at half time, as players charged in with flying tackles looking to impose their personality on the game. Shelbourne particularly signalled their increased pressing intentions by standing on the white line of the 18-yard box, something they were reluctant to do in the first half.

A series of forceful tackles meant the flow of the game was consistently interrupted for free kicks. One such free resulted in a glancing header by Patrick Hoban, which nestled in the bottom right corner to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Shels brought on Daniel Carr for the final 20 minutes and looked to get the ball into the feet of Boyd.

Sean Boyd of Shelbourne celebrates with teammates after scoring. (Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile)

Shelbourne spot-on

The Shels equaliser came from a cross from Kane. Boyd controlled the ball and touched it by Dundalk goalkeeper Nathan Sheppard, who brought the striker down resulting in a penalty kick. Boyd slotted the ball in the bottom left corner, with enough on it to elude Sheppard.

The game was seen out by a period of end-to-end football with Shels fans looking to suck the ball into the goal by improving an already intimidating atmosphere for the Dundalk players. Nonetheless, Dundalk were able to retain enough of the ball to avoid any serious threats and leave Tolka with a point.

Overall, Duff will travel to Dalymount Park, on Monday knowing his team are capable getting points off the big boys this season.


  • Shamrock Rovers 1-0 Bohemians
  • Finn Harps 0-2 St Patrick’s Athletic
  • Drogheda 0-3 Sligo Rovers