Friday 24 November 2017

Mathews targeting Cup tonic to soothe title pain

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It's Bank Holiday Monday and Shelbourne are open for business. As media people and cameramen maraud around Tolka Park, the reality of Cup final fever is beginning to set in.

Sure, losing the First Division title to Cork City in injury-time on Saturday night hurt everyone in the Shels' dressing-room pretty badly, but with promotion already in the bag, it's a different kind of pain to what the club has experienced in recent times.

Furthermore, it happened in the second tier of football in this country, which generally attracts no more than a cursory glance from most Irish football fans. After five years in that existence, it's back to the relative big time for Shels in the build-up to Sunday's showdown with Sligo Rovers at the Aviva Stadium.

Ticket sales are steady, with some lapsed Shels fans emerging from exile to show their colours again. It's all about putting this club back on the map.

So, while there was heartache on Saturday evening, Alan Mathews invited his players in on Sunday morning for a chat to lift the spirits and focus minds.

"I was in shock," admits Mathews, who stormed out of the ground after the game. "It was gut-wrenching. There was a hollowness because it was so final, there was no way back. To lose a title with 10 seconds remaining...

"It killed everybody. Some of the players were crying. Staff were crying. I couldn't bring myself to get up off the chair, never mind go and talk.

"That's football, that's sport, it's the narrowest of margins," continues Mathews, whose team led by 10 points at one stage in the season.

"It came down to the last game, but it shouldn't have come down to that because we were in a very strong position. To win a league, you have to do a lot of things: win when you're not playing well, win ugly. But we shot ourselves in the foot by losing six games.

"You don't really win a league by losing six games, and of those six games, we've gone through it, we could have picked up a couple of points with a little more assurance and self-belief from certain individuals. But we're up and promoted."

Now, it's a case of looking forward to a big day out in Dublin 4, with officials hoping for an occasion to replicate the memorable 2010 showdown between Sligo and Shamrock Rovers.

"We had a chat on Sunday," says Mathews. "There was great regret and great disappointment, but it's not a real task to lift the players because we're looking ahead to the next game and it's a wonderful game to try and rectify that."

Irish Independent

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