06 November, 2011

No fairytale end of season for Shelbourne but Tolka Park faithful will be happy their club still exists - and as a Premier League club next season: 2011 Airtricity League season is over:

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Tumultuous times but reminders of former glories for Shels
No other Irish club embraced the Celtic Tiger era with greater verve and ambition that Shels; no other club fell further into the abyss.  To see them back in the big-time can only be good for Irish football.

            Sligo Rovers completed the Airtricity League of Ireland season by lifting their second FAI Cup in a row - and for the second time in a row they won in a penalty shoot-out.  However, the real story of the 2011 Airtricity League season (aside from Shamrock Rovers' Annus Mirabulus) came from the First Division.
             Having gone out of business before the start of last season;  Cork City FC last week overcame all odds to pip Shelbourne to the First Division Title.  Shels were however promoted and today lost an unexpected Cup Final.  Never before had a club lost in the FAI Ford Cup, only to be re-instated.
             The truth is that had Shelbourne won today's showpiece; only the hardest of hearts would have begrudged them the crown.  No other Irish club embraced the Celtic Tiger era with greater verve and ambition that Shels;  almost no other club fell further into the abyss.  Six years ago;  Shelbourne came within 45 minutes of becoming the first Irish club to qualify for the cash cow that is the group stages of the UEFA Champions League.  18 months later;  the club stood on the precipice of extinction, or at the very least becoming an amateaur club.  Truth is that if the club had not gotten promoted this season; they would unquestionably have reverted back to a wholly part-time status.  
PENALTY KING:  Ciaran Kelly
            Top flight football is of course a very harsh world however and having taken the lead on the half-hour today, Shelbourne were wrongly reduced to ten men five minutes later.  It appeared as if there more illustrious opponents would proceed to take charge and win comfortably, but Sligo only netted once and in the end were happy to take the game to penalties.  In the last minute of extra-time; Sligo boss Paul Cook replaced first choice goalkeeper with Ciaran Kelly, who saved all four penalties he faced in last season's shoot-out.  The romantics would cry foul on such tactics, but many would counter; winning is the object of the game and Kelly is undoubtedly the best penalty saver in the Irish game.
2010 Cup Heroes: 2011 Cup Finals: Sligo celebrate win
             The romantics would also have wanted to see the plucky underdogs beat the odds and lift the Cup but football doesn't often act as we would like as 'keeper Kelly came up trumps once again and Shelbourne were to miss out on lifting the Cup by the narrowest of margins.  For the club that refused to die however, there were plenty reasons to celebrate from the 2011 season.
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