There were just 10 of the 900 tickets available to Shelbourne for tonight’s Aitricity League game away to Bohemians still on offer when Ian Morris sat down yesterday to chat about the first meeting of the northside rivals in the Premier Division for seven years.
The ‘sold out’ signs have been swinging consistently from the gates of Dalymount Park in recent seasons and, on the face of it, their presence again this evening is further evidence of a league finally beginning to puff its chest out.
“This will be our fourth game and a fourth sell-out,” said Morris, whose Shelbourne side were First Division champions last term.
“For everyone, the momentum behind fans coming out and watching games, it’s unbelievable. I just hope that can remain for the season.”
Bohs claimed a dramatic 3-2 win when these sides met in the FAI Cup last year. The hope is that this latest chapter of an old Dublin derby can feed further the momentum generated for the league by last week’s sensational game between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk.
A crowd of 7,522 took in that encounter in Tallaght but Dalymount in its current decrepit state can cater for less than half that number and it is a continuing source of frustration for a club that has made such inroads in recent times.
Plans for a new, state-of-the-art ground with an ability to fit 6,000 spectators have been unveiled but it’s a complicated process involving Dublin City Council, Bohs, Shels, a temporary ground share at Tolka Park, and an endgame where both clubs share the new ‘Dalyer’. Latest estimates are that it could be 2024 before it all gets done.
“What we need to do as a club is get after this new Dalymount, make sure this project happens for the area, for both clubs,” said Bohs manager Keith Long at an event to promote eir Sport’s upcoming soccer coverage.
“In order for us to progress as a club we need a modern, fit-for-purpose stadium where we accommodate larger crowds.”
Long’s frustration with the club’s digs was evident after their home loss to Shamrock Rovers last month when he lamented the state of the pitch in the wake of Storm Dennis.
“This is an issue affecting Bohemians on both sides of the white line. Still, no-one envisaged a situation where they would be selling out the current place when Long arrived so maybe this is one of those ‘good’ problems for a club that has engineered leaps in attendances, memberships and season tickets and, it must be said, cult status.
Shelbourne’s return to the top tier is further good news for the professional game in Ireland and there is a sense that clubs have learned from the financial excesses of the noughties and heeded the need to advance in a slower fashion and establish greater foundations as they go.
Bohemians and Shelbourne appear to be examples of that. Morris spent the vast majority of his playing career, 10 years of it, floating around the lower order of the professional game in England.
He has seen the vast sums ploughed into facilities there and understands the need for the league here to do similar.
But other low-hanging fruit has attracted his attention too.
“For me as well, the compensation rule [for players transferring to UK clubs], especially with Brexit... Clubs need to get together and start fighting to hold onto their players and not give into minimal — and I stress minimal — fees for players. The more money that comes in for players, that gets invested into infrastructure in clubs... and that’s a way of getting it. You talk about TV viewing, that’s more income for clubs. There’s a lot there, a lot of these ideas being thrown about now.
“Hopefully we can follow through with them and people are going to be a little bit stronger in trying to look after themselves.
“When you look at the young Irish players playing in the Premier League and Championship, are you telling me they are not worth more than [their clubs] got?”