Seeing is believing as Shels draw first blood

THE sign implored the players to believe. And each time the Shelbourne players attacked in the second half, they must have heeded the advice of that flag in red adorning the empty terrace.

Last night was about belief, belief that wrought a scoreless draw against one of the giants of Spanish soccer, Deportivo la Coruna. The semi-finalists of the Champions League had come to Lansdowne Road and were being outplayed. Disbelief had long been suspended.

Shelbourne Football Club were founded yards from this ground 108 years ago. There were plenty of contented ghosts around Ringsend yesterday evening as the entire city of Dublin followed Shelbourne back to their spiritual home.

Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers shirts mixed good-naturedly. Rivalries were on hold. It didn’t matter, last night you were a Shelbourne supporter. And you were believing.

You believed when, in the first minute, Ollie Cahill robbed the ball in midfield and a world of possibilities opened up for Pat Fenlon’s side.

Believed when Glen Fitzpatrick’s second-minute cross caused confusion between Deportivo keeper Jose Molina and his defence. And you believed every time the ball fell at Wesley Hoolihan’s feet.

Deportivo La Coruna reached the Champions League semi-final last season and counted Jorge Andrade, one of the outstanding footballers of Euro 2004, among their team.

This was the night domestic soccer was finally going to gain respect. Never be patronised again.

Passionate people have kept the league going, kept Shels going, and that passion was in full force last night. The electric atmosphere almost drowned out the Champions League composition. Those who didn’t feel a chill as that piece of music played at Lansdowne weren’t human.

And the passion transferred to the players. Shelbourne mightn’t get 24,000 at Tolka each weekend, but there were 24,000 voices screeching with each attack, with each Hoolihan piece of magic and with each chance.

The skies darkened and the rains dispelled the earlier threat of a summer and yet they believed through it all. This was a night for the Eircom League, so-often derided, to take a step forward with Shelbourne.

Last night, Shelbourne weren’t just playing for their own pride, they were playing for the pride of Rovers and Bohs, Cork City and Waterford, even for the past glories of Cork Celtic and Drumcondra.

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