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Starved Shels up for Cup

A BUSY Tolka Park on a Friday night, Shels v Pats, the live TV cameras and a big Dublin crowd.

However, there is a slight difference from their big battles of the 1990s and past decade as the Dublin duo are not fighting for the Premier Division title but 'merely' a place in the FAI Cup final, as Shels are still in the purgatory of First Division football, a consequence of their demotion in 2006 over their financial affairs.

It could be a great season for Shels no matter what happens tonight.

The club - despite a run of three league defeats in their last four games, an astonishing run for a side which won 12 times in 13 games from May to September - are still in with a very solid chance of winning the Division One title and, with that, promotion back to the Premier.

But a win in tonight's cup semi-final against Pats could be the catalyst for Shels to reclaim their status and become one of the big boys again.

The league title remains a priority for Shels and most fans would accept a defeat tonight if it guaranteed wins from their final three league games and subsequent promotion.

But then there's the added spice of a November 6 cup final appearance in Lansdowne Road, just a few long throws away from the Reds' traditional home of Ringsend.

Massive

"Someone was asking me the other day what the crowds are like for Shels these days, but I have no doubt that if we did get to the final, we would bring a massive crowd to the final. All the old Shels people would come out of the woodwork," says Shels keeper Dean Delaney, now in his second spell at the club.

"And hopefully that would be sustained if we got promoted, that those people would stay with the club and back us in the Premier next season.

"This is such a great club. If you ask any of the players who've played for the club - and not just in the glory days but even in the First Division - they will tell you that. It's to do with the people behind the club and the history of the club," added Delaney.

He was part of the Shels generation which was spoiled by league and Champions League success, but Shels have now swapped battles with clubs such as Deportivo La Coruna and Hajduk Split for games against Mervue United and Wexford Youths.

"It has been hard, getting used to life in the First Division when the Shels I started out at were in the Premier and playing in the Champions League," added Delaney.

"But I love the place. This is my fourth season back at Shels, and all those years will be justified if we can do well this season, get promoted and get to the cup final, so fingers crossed we can get over this hurdle and get through."

A Dublin derby then tonight, but different priorities for the clubs. Pats have not won the cup since 1961 and for them to end that drought this year would signify an amazing achievement for Pete Mahon's side, now well out of contention for the league race.

Shels, on the other hand, see the league as their main aim.

"The league is still the priority for us," Delaney confesses.

"If you ask anyone, they'd say that the cup is a nice distraction but the league is where it's at. The ideal thing for us would be to win the cup and get promoted back to the Premier as well.

Geared

"The league is the main aim for us but we will take this game on its merits and see if we are good enough to beat St Pats. We are more geared towards the league but we can still do something in the cup too.

"Pats will be a hard game for us. They are a very hard side to break down. Very few teams will go 2-0 up on Pats. They haven't conceded too many goals this season and are very strong at the back.

"We'll see what we can do. They are so many places ahead of us in the league scenario so they are the favourites, but it's a chance for us."

Shels are without the suspended Gareth Mathews and the injured duo of David McGill and Lorcan Fitzgerald, while Conan Byrne is a concern. Pats are missing the cup-tied Sean O'Connor and Shane Guthrie.