Manager: Owen Heary
Stadium: Tolka Park
Highest attendance this season: 761 vs Galway United (20th of April)
Highest league goalscorer: David O’Sullivan (13)
Mid-season position: 3rd
How we thought they would do
There was a real sense of anticipation at Tolka Park before the season began as the Reds looked, for the first time in a good while, like legitimate promotion contenders. As mentioned by our own Mark Quinlan at the time, Shelbourne needed to find a consistency that they were sorely lacking last year in order to realising their dream of returning to Premier Division football after a barren four-year spell away from the top table of Irish football.
How they really have done
By and large, Shelbourne have found that all important consistency so far this year as Owen Heary’s Reds look to make their long-awaited return to the Premier Division in 2019. Shels have drastically improved their home form from last year and it is paying dividends in terms of results and crowds. While they have been criticised somewhat for their more direct style of play, it is a formula that seems to be working as their impressive defensive structure has seen them soar up the table to third place, just seven points behind UCD with another round of fixtures to play over the coming months.
Moment of the season so far
Unsurprisingly, Shels’ moment of the season came at home against Longford Town in a thrilling 3-2 win over their Midlands counterparts at the Richmond Road venue. It was a fantastic advert for League of Ireland football as both sides threw caution to the wind in order grab those all important three points. Most important from a Shelbourne perspective was that they finally came out on top in a game with last minute drama. Since then, there has been a marked increase in attendances at Tolka which has been encouragingly supplemented with a much-improved feel around the ground.
Star Player: David O’Sullivan
Since his move from fellow First Division rivals Longford Town, David O’Sullivan has taken to life at Tolka like to duck to water. O’Sullivan has proven to be a critical component of all things good about Shelbourne’s play so far this season. His deadly eye for goal and his natural poacher’s instinct in and round the six-yard box has proven to be invaluable for Owen Heary’s side, so expect the clinical Wicklow man to increase his already high goal-scoring tally in the remaining half of the season.
Surprise star player: James English
James English is certainly one that has caught the eye at Tolka Park this season with some nippy displays of determination and quality in his opening half of the year at Drumcondra. English has been slowly feeling his way into the Shelbourne side over the last few seasons so perhaps it is no surprise to see him really starting to fulfil his undoubted potential this season. Generally operating on the right of a clinical front three, English will be hoping that he can increase his influence on the Shelbourne starting 11 in the remaining three or four months of the season.
Young player: James Brown
Still only 20 years old, James Brown has really established himself as a first team regular for Owen Heary’s charges this season with many composed showings of defensive solidity to date. Brown has already made 16 appearances for the Reds, scoring once. That solitary strike came against Cobh Ramblers in a 3-0 success at St Colman’s Park in May. While being far from the finished article, Brown knows that should he build on an encouraging first half of the season, he has every chance of helping his side gain promotion back to the Premier Division come the Autumn’s end.
Star signing: David O’Sullivan
This one is fairly self-explanatory. O’Sullivan’s goals have been key to the Reds’ promotion tilt thus far which has resulted in him instantly becoming a crowd favourite at Tolka Park. One would suspect that there is certainly more to come from the former Longford Town striker post the mid-season break.
What they need to do in the transfer market
While having an overall well-balanced squad, you just get the feeling with Shelbourne that they may be lacking a creative midfielder in games where they are expected to grab a few goals in. Often enough, it seems as if Shels rely too much on direct style of play so investing in a cultured playmaker may prove to be the difference in games where the Reds are struggling to stamp their authority. This could prove to be the difference should Shelbourne continue on their promotion charge until the end of the season.
Where we see them finishing
Owen Heary will be acutely aware that his side are more than capable of pulling a title winning run of form together this during the remaining ten games this season, but he will also be under no illusions that they may easily fall out of the promotion running altogether should they continue their home struggles of recent weeks. While the title is still a realistic proposition, the Reds may be forced to take a playoff place, which would be no mean feat given the competitiveness at the top of the First Division table.