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Final stepping stone for Shels

IT WAS a different time and a different Ireland.

This week, Shelbourne manager Alan Mathews took a few minutes from his very busy schedule of juggling a full-time job with Ulster Bank, his managerial duties with Shelbourne, his family commitments and also some media work, to look back in time.

The last time Shelbourne FC played in an FAI Cup final -- they beat Bohemians to win the double -- the club, like the country, was awash with cash. Full-time players, full-time training regimes, every need taken care of.

The Shels crop of 2011 is much changed. It's a different club, having spent five painful seasons in the purgatory of Division One football, a spell outside the top flight which will end next year as the current team secured promotion last week.

"The Ireland of 2000 is different to the Ireland of 2011 and so is the football scene," says Shels boss Mathews, assistant manager with the side of 2000, who went on to enjoy success in the cups with Longford Town after leaving Tolka Park in 2002.


"Eleven years ago this was a completely different club. We had senior players who had won leagues and FAI Cups at other clubs. We had emerging players like Richie Foran and Richie Baker. We were signing experienced players.

"Most of the lads in our squad (now) are either at work or in college. We have quite a few students -- Andy Boyle, John Sullivan, Gareth Matthews, Sean Byrne -- are all at college.

"We're a part-time club and we make no bones about that. That's just the way it us.

"It's a different league, the philosophy is different because there's no money.

"Back in 2003 and 2004, when the country was enjoying success, wages of €300-a-week in football were seen as mediocre, now that's top-end money. It has completely changed but it's no harm and I find it a very enjoyable place to work now.

"I think the key here is that no one is on massive money any more. The guys in this squad are all on more or less the same money and it's not much, but what they have is a desire to do well and succeed.

"That creates a good balance. If you take someone like Stephen Paisley, who played under me at Longford and would have been more or less full time at Pats and Sporting Fingal.

"He's working for a living now and I think that changes his demeanour, you're not just playing football any more," added Mathews.

"When I came back to Shels mid-way through last season I was happy to come to a club where everyone was rowing in the same direction.

"We had a go at promotion last year and missed out but we changed things around, let a lot of players go, brought in a fresh crop.

"And the players have been magnificent. We brought in young lads like Gareth Matthews, Andy Boyle, John Sullivan, Kevin Dawson, those young lads came in and grasped it by the scruff of the neck. We have enjoyed working together, there has been a good bond, the players worked very hard in training."

Shels fans are coming out of the woodwork for tomorrow's final as Premier League football also beckons, but Mathews has warned against any assumption that the glory days are really back.

"As a club we have a long, long way to go," he says. "We are back in the Premier and in a Cup final but this is a stepping stone to doing better.

"We need to get more people at games and more people involved in the club. The Cup final will help, but the boom years are a long way away."

There's still a gap evident ahead of tomorrow's game. As Sligo's players are all full-time professionals, their manager Paul Cook had the whole week to prepare his game plan for tomorrow, while Shels players had their day jobs to deal with. "That's a factor, my work is here in the office, Sligo's work this week is on the training ground," Mathews says from an office in Ulster Bank's HQ on the quays in Dublin's southside. So we work around it.

"It's a really good way to finish the season, to be playing in the last game of the year, at the Aviva Stadium."

Shels approach tomorrow's game with the main aim for the season, promotion back to the Premier Division secured.

Now all they have to do is beat Sligo, not an easy thing to do, but Shels do have players capable of delivering a big game.

"If you look at our squad you have a bunch of lads who have been playing Premier Division football for a long time, lads like Dean Delaney and Stephen Paisley," says Mathews.

"But you also have young lads who haven't really been at this stage before so they lack that experience of a big cup final, but what they do have is a real hunger and desire to win things.

"If there is even a hint of vulnerability there it is dealt with within the group and I don't see it as an issue. Players are looking forward to the day, I am confident they will embrace it.

"There will be nerves but that's a good thing, it adds to the tension."