Showpiece clash gives Shels brief respite from battling legacy of excess
SHELBOURNE are back at the top table, but they are still paying for the mistakes of their last visit. Promotion and a cup final trip have merely succeeded in easing the burden of an onerous task.
Tomorrow's Lansdowne Road date with Sligo has a dual purpose. On one hand, it's a reward for people like their chairman Joe Casey, the rest of the board and the loyal supporters who have steered the club through the darkest of days.
On the other, it's a chance to lure back those fans who drifted away when the bubble created by Ollie Byrne's excess burst. It's seven years since their last trip to Ballsbridge, a UEFA Cup clash with Lille that followed that memorable Champions League tie with Deportivo La Coruna.
They made €700,000 from that European adventure, a haul which reduced the 2004 loss from €2.3m to €1.6m. Remarkably, the late Byrne deemed it a success. That was the culture. He is still spoken of fondly, as his irrational behaviour derived from a love for the club, not a desire for personal wealth. But it left a mess.
When a 'hollow' Premier Division success in 2006 was followed by instant demotion, Casey sat down to meet a seemingly endless list of creditors. In some cases, the paper trail was limited. Somehow, the club survived, but the legacy remains.
"There's a lot of debts," says Casey. "The debts are with the old company, Accolade, that was parked when we took over. That company has the asset in Tolka Park. You're talking about millions of debts and that will only be satisfied when the leasehold interest is gone.
"The way the property market is at the moment, I don't know when that's going to be. There is a contract of sale there (with Coneforth -- a consortium led by businessmen Jerry O'Reilly and Ossie Kilkenny) but there is no appetite to close it at the moment because the funds aren't there."
Considering that Casey expects to be in Tolka for at least three years, then the club will always be restrained by the scale of what they owe. "Other clubs liquidated their companies and started afresh, Derry and Cork," he explains. "We could have and walked away from all the creditors, but that didn't happen. They understand the situation. They will be paid when the ground is sold.
"If the original price that's in the contract is satisfied, there would be a surplus. But I don't think that contract will be satisfied now. I think it will be a lower price."
Casey is one of the creditors. He invested a lot of money and so did a number of other directors. Such is their love for the Reds, they will be down the queue if the club can somehow get into a healthy position again.
His vision is a groundshare with Bohemians, perhaps with the kind of council support that has reinvigorated Shamrock Rovers on the southside.
It's baby steps for now. There was a lot of emotion when Shels got the win over Finn Harps that sealed a return to the Premier Division. "I think a number of the board would have considered our positions if we had missed out this year," says Casey.
The pressure is off tomorrow afternoon but, from Monday, the recovery process will continue.