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Mathews eyes final frontier

ARE THE glory days on the way back for long-suffering fans of Shelbourne FC?

Whatever about the presidential election, it seems like the red tide is turning as the Tolka Park club -- currently top of the Division One table with four league games left -- sealed a place in the last four of the FAI Ford Cup with their 4-3 quarter-final win over Limerick FC last night, veteran striker Philly Hughes scoring a hat-trick for the Reds.

Shels haven't reached the semi-final stage since they last won the Cup in 2000, but now they face old rivals St Patrick's Athletic in the last four at Tolka Park in two weeks' time.

And for a club deprived of the limelight since their demotion from the top flight for financial reasons in 2006, that semi-final, with a big crowd and live TV coverage, will be like a taste of the old times.

It will be even sweeter as Shels had been put out of the Cup back in August, only to be finally reinstated when it was discovered that their conquerors, non-league side Sheriff YC, fielded an ineligible player.



traditional

So, for Shels to go onto the final at Lansdowne Road -- the area which is their traditional home -- would be some story.

"We won't get carried away, we have a league game to play before the semi-final so we will deal with that first. I was at the Aviva Stadium for the final last year and if we can go and get this club into the next stage, it would be a brilliant lift for everybody associated with this club," Shels manager Alan Mathews said after last night's win.

Mathews stressed that winning the league and automatic promotion is still the main goal for Shels, bidding to end their five-season stay in Division One.

"It's a different club to the one I was associated with 10 years ago, but there are a lot of similarities, a lot of good people working behind the scenes.

"We have come though a difficult period and I'd like to think we're heading in the right direction.

"There is a lot for us to play for and though we have a lot of work to do, I'd like to think we can put the club back to where it's used to being. A lot of hard work has gone in, we have to make sure we finish it off.

"If we can beat Pats and win the league games we need to win, then we'll have achieved our goals. The league is in our control.

"Home to Pats in the semi-final of the Cup, it's a long time since Shelbourne were in that sort of arena and it will be a great occasion against Pats.



opportunity

"It's a great reflection on the work that the players have put in all season, it's another opportunity for us to have a good season. Our target is very clear in terms of what we want to achieve but if we win the next Cup game, we'll have another good occasion to look forward to."

A good night for Shels, but the finish to the game was more nervy than it needed to be for the home side. Just a minute into the second half, Shels seemed to be already in the semi-final as they held a 3-0 lead.

Hughes volleyed them in front on 20 minutes from Brendan McGill's cross, a Hughes shot caused Limerick defender Andrew Bhandarkar to deflect the ball into his own net on 27 minutes, and a Hughes header from Barry Clancy's cross on 46 minutes made it 3-0.

John Frost got a goal back for Limerick with a fine shot on 53 minutes, Hughes popped up again with a free kick on 76 minutes to make it 4-1, but two goals from Limerick substitute Barry Sheedy (80 and 88 minutes) left Shels with only a one-goal advantage in the closing minutes.

"We were missing 14 or 15 players last night and that's just too many to cope with," said Limerick boss Pat Scully. "We weren't strong enough and those goals at the end made the scoreline a bit flattering to us. We had some positives. Barry Sheedy is only 17 but he came in last night and scored two goals, and it was a big plus to get Stephen O'Flynn back."