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Thursday 17th January 2002

By James Curran

It might not be Celtic v Rangers, but when Dublin rivals Shelbourne and St Patrick's Athletic square up on Friday, the tension will be greater than at any point in their histories.

The two clubs have never been the most bitter rivals. Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers is THE derby in the Irish capital, but after a bitter feud between Shels and Pats this season, the whole of Irish football will be watching the match.

It has enough off-the-field material to fill TV soap operas Dream Team and Footballer's Wives put together – controversial transfers, legal challenges, weekly personal attacks in the papers, even an incident where the chairman of one of the clubs was allegedly pushed down a set of stairs by an official from the other club.

There are, of course, league points at stake. Pats are two points ahead of Shels at the top of the table in a league race which has just ten games left, but only because a nine-point penalty imposed on the Saints was lifted last week, despite protests from Shels.

Pats had been penalised for playing midfielder Paul Marney in three league games when he had not been correctly registered with the league.

And the matter has still not been resolved as Shels say they will take any route necessary – through the Irish courts or even Fifa – to reverse the FAI decision to remove the penalty and simply fine Pats.

The points issue lengthens the history of animosity between two clubs with passionate desires to try and out-do the other.

For the past decade, the clubs, for so long sleeping giants in Irish football, have been head-to-head for trophies (between them they won five of the nine titles from 1992 to 2000), to sign the best players and improve their facilities.

The St Pats club motto is an old Irish phrase, Ni neart go cur le cheile (there's no strength without unity) and indeed the two clubs have worked together on a number of issues in the past ten years.

Improved television coverage, more government investment and the bid to stop Wimbledon moving to Dublin have all been areas of common ground.

But there has been precious little sign of unity between Pats and Shels and this season relations have been at their lowest.

Shels officials have been at pains in the build-up to the match to stress that they have no personal agenda against Pats and that they would have pushed the issue over the nine-point penalty if it had been any other club.

But many fans doubt that and instead feel that this is just the latest battle between the two.

It's hard to pinpoint when exactly Pats and Shels changed from being mere footballing acquaintances to bitter rivals.

They were both major powers in the Fifties and Sixties, but in later decades they both fell into decline. Throughout the Eighties Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians were Dublin's top two, with Pats and Shels in the doldrums.

But in the early Nineties, both sides experienced a revival.

After a long period as a homeless club, Pats moved back to their Dublin 8 home in 1993 and began the process of building a solid structure for the club which brought three league titles in four years.

Meanwhile, Shels also found a home when a new chairman bankrolled the purchase of Tolka Park in 1990.

The first sign of real conflict between the clubs came with the 1996 transfer of Dave Campbell from Pats to a Shels side who were now the richest club in the country.

The next serious row came in the summer of 1998 when Pats were drawn with Celtic in the preliminary round of the Champions' League. The first leg in Glasgow was a huge success as Pats earned a 0-0 draw, but the home game was mired in controversy.

Because Pats' own ground was too small to host the tie, they had to change to the only Dublin ground with enough seats: Shels' Tolka Park.

But there was a week-long row between the Dublin clubs over money, access and tickets for the game, which Celtic won 2-0. Pat Dolan later described it as "the most disgraceful week in the history of Irish football" and almost quit the game.

Matters were not helped by the fact that Pats had won the title at Shels' expense in the most dramatic circumstances possible.

In the last game of the season, Shels needed only a draw against Dundalk to win the title, but they lost their match and Pats beat Kilkenny City.

Since then there have been occasional spats, but in the last 18 months these have become more regular, and the personal animosities are highlighted as managers Dolan and Dermot Keely trade insults in their tabloid newspaper columns.

It makes good copy for the Irish Sun (Keely) and the Star (Dolan), but many in Irish football are embarrassed by their little war.

Dolan provoked Keely by stating that, while he had spent ten loyal years with Pats, Keely had moved from club to club. There were comments from one manager to the other about their dress sense, even their speaking manner .

Then, last season, there was another controversial incident between the clubs after a league game at Tolka Park, where it was alleged that Pats chairman Tim O'Flaherty was pushed down some stairs during a scuffle with a Shels official.

All that came before the Paul Marney affair.

So the Friday game is bound to be tense. There is some innocent history between the sides: Shels boss Keely and his midfielder Pat Fenlon both played for Pats, while Saints striker Liam Kelly gave good service to Shels in his 18-month spell there.

But there are bound to be few new friendships made. And Ireland's greatest grudge match is sure to last longer than the 90 minutes on the field.




I hope Pats kick their a*s. The only reason being that I hate whingers:D
 

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Ollie Byrne should be shot. He's a pain in the hole. He'ld kill Irish footy if he though it was good for Shels. Go on the Pats
 

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I'm going straight to the boozer in a minute. Pity RTE dont have the live friday games om the TV any more. Will be jammers all right. Maybe thats how we'll get the crowds back to the games....start inter-club hostilities all over the place
 

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Ah crap to be on the other side of the Atlantic. Should be very entertaining and intense. Let me know what happens, don't leave out any juicy bits. It does sound like a Soap Opera. Maybe something like "The hills never end" Starring Pat and Shel.
 

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Let's go Shelbourne! Rip em' apart!:tongue:
 

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Lets go St. Pats! Sorry I can't cheer against my name (u err not the Saint part) and I've never been a Shel's fan.
 

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Ur name Pat is it? So is mine! ;) I did go for Pat's a while back but didn't really follow em' then I switched to Shelbourne, I like Pat's but prefer Shelbourne...:)
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Eircom league Commissioner Roy Dooney and Ollie Byrne had a "clear the air" meeting last Saturday afternoon after Dundalk changed the date of the game between both sides to Sunday to facilitate RTE.

Byrne was up in arms over a decision by Dundalk to move their fixture against Shels back from Thursday next to Sunday to help out RTE television cameras and said:"I'm running a business here and we have already made a number of arrangements based on a Thursday night and yet, it seems, we don't even merit the courtesy of a phone call. It's typical of the way this league is being run and the commissioner should take responsibility for it and go,"

In a statement Dooney said: "Ollie Byrne, Chief Executive of Shelbourne FC and I had a lengthy, friendly "clear the air" meeting on Saturday afternoon. I recognise that I should have consulted Shelbourne before encouraging Dundalk to change their home match against Shelbourne later this week to facilitate RTE and have apologised to Shelbourne for this. I am grateful to Shelbourne FC for agreeing to play the match against Dundalk on Sunday next."
 
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