Limerick’s Shelbourne AFC earn FAI Club Mark

LDSL extends it congratulations to Shelbourne AFC on their achievement of earning the FAI Club Mark. Limerick’s Shelbourne AFC are the latest club to complete the FAI Club Mark.20th May 2021

The club was founded in 1928 in the Thomondgate area of Limerick city by Christy Lawlor, Joe O’Brien, Michael Meehan, Pat Murphy and Tommy Lawlor, and Billie Wallace was elected as the first Club President. It is the oldest surviving club in the city, and was an early powerhouse on the local Limerick scene, winning minor leagues in 1928-29 and 1929-30, the Limerick Junior League in 1929-30 and the North Munster League in 1931-32.

The club also supplied no less than eight players of the twenty-two chosen for a Southern Trial match in January 1930. In the early days, club treasurer Mick Brazil organised church gate collections, draws and raffles in order to get their gear and a football. He also unsuccessfully deployed homing pigeons to bring news of a Shels victory in an FAI Junior Cup replay away in Cahir, Co. Tipperary in 1932. Unfortunately, the team arrived home before the birds could be coaxed down from the rooftops! Shels reached the semi-final of the FAI Junior Cup in 1939-40 (during the “Emergency” period of the Second World War) but had to forfeit the match owing to travel restrictions that limited chosen elevens to players living within a 15-mile radius of the city, which was problematic for some of the players who were billeted at Army barracks around the State.

The club played their early games near Hassetts Cross, (on a patch of grass rented for fifty shillings a month) just yards from the famous Thomond Park, before eventually finding a home in Shelbourne Park on Shelbourne Road when the original site was developed. Like many pitches at the time, the pitch was not always in optimal condition: cinders were often used to make the goal areas playable (seemingly common practice at the time!) Willie Grimes, a goalkeeper, actually had his leg infected and was hospitalised for a number of months. Luckily, Willie survived and went on to act as treasurer for many years and representing the club on the local district council. Willie’s brother Michael served the club as player (a distinguished centre half), manager, secretary and chairman. Michael also played with the Limerick District team in the Oscar Traynor Cup.

Current club trustees Joe Clancy and Paul O’Halloran tell stories of Shelbourne Park being packed with people 4 and 5 deep watching matches on a Sunday morning. The bucket was passed around the pitch in order to raise a few bob to sustain the club. This tradition of the bucket continued right into the 21st century with legendary clubman Michael “Minnie” O’Halloran ensuring that people were able to make their contributions. The pitch in Shelbourne Park was always a problem as the drainage wasn’t great so the club sought out other venues including Kinsella’s field, Bateman Park, the fields near the Country Club on the Old Cratloe Road and in the 1970s the LPYMA Grounds on the Ennis Road which it still uses today. The club won Lawson Cups in 1958, 1969 and 1976, and the North Munster Cup in 1961, but were losing finalists in the latter competition in both 1972 and 1974.

The club had a number of strong minor teams and had numerous schoolboy teams and actually amalgamated with Shelbourne Villa schoolboy team for a short while in the 1970s. Shortly after the pitch was drained and re-surfaced in 2008, the club moved back into schoolboy football, This has resulted in the rebirth of the club with a huge growth in teams and playing numbers.The club now has teams at all levels of football from Under 7 all the way through to it’s two adult teams including participating in the annual over 40s charity tournament. In recent years the club has started to develop a girls section and has a number of female coaches.

The club has had many well known players but probably the best known was Bud Ahern who played with the club in the early 1940s. Bud went on to play professional football with Belfast Celtic and Luton Town and has the distinction of being capped for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. At the time players could play with both teams before the rules were changed. He played in the famous Republic of Ireland win over England at Goodison Park in 1949, the first time that England had been beaten at home by any foreign international team. Bud also played hurling with Treaty Sarsfield and actually played with Limerick. The infamous GAA “ban” at the time meant that Bud had to choose soccer, In fact in Shelbourne team photos he had to lower his head to make sure he was not recognised by GAA officials. The club also had both a Youth international (Christy Grimes, 1953) and a Junior international (Niall Darcy, late 1970s).

In 2018, the club was thrilled when three of their Under 14 players were selected for the Limerick District Kennedy Cup team (Sam Brown, goalkeeper Luke Carmody and the late Rian O’Halloran, our outstanding captain, who lost his brave battle for life in January 202).. Rian will never be forgotten at Shelbourne AFC. He was such a wonderful young man whose smile would brighten up any day.

There are many family connections in the club: the Grimes family, the Guerin brothers Brian and Martin, strikers in the 1970s and 1980s while current club secretary Derek Allen’s dad Foncie was club chairman for many years, the Whartons, the O’Hallorans, the Cusacks, the Clancys, the Crowes, the Murphys, the Quans, and the Croke family (which was involved since 1928). Current club chairman, Tony Cusack has been involved with the club for over 40 years. The building of the clubhouse was a huge challenge and men like Timmy O’Donoughue and Timmy O’Brien led the way. The club’s main sponsor for many years has been Walter’s Fuels based just down the road at Watch House Cross. Colm Walters was club secretary for many years and played for the club at all levels.

The Golden Jubilee in 1978 was a huge landmark for the club and the club celebrated in style by hosting a tournament at the Markets Field with Limerick, Cork Celtic and Shelbourne selections. In 2018 the club celebrated their 90th anniversary with a Gala Ball at the Strand Hotel attended by 250 people including the Lord Mayor. The city honoured the club with a Mayoral reception at City Hall where the club was praised for its contribution to the city’s sporting life.

At present Shels fields 15 teams, and serves over 360 registered players, including 250 children, with a very healthy mixture of boys and girls drawn from the surrounding areas on the northside.of the city as well as from a diverse range of new communities. Shels’underage sides currently feature boys and girls (and coaching staff) from Sudan, Pakistan, Poland as well as their Irish friends and with a firm emphasis on inclusion and local implementation of the “Football for All” ethos that develops football opportunities for players with a disability in their local community.

Shels have been actively seeking to increase the numbers of girls participating in its underage sides, and currently has enough girls to field stand-alone girls’ teams, which may formally enter the local district league upon the resumption of play when the present COVID-19 restrictions ease. 

The FAI Club Mark is free and optional for clubs and aims to:

•          Improve the management of clubs ‘off the field’

•          Establish and promote best practice

•          Empower and support clubs

•          Recognise and reward clubs for achieving high standards

•          Increase a club’s capacity to operate effectively and grow football in communities throughout Ireland.

If your club is interested in learning more about the FAI Club Mark please complete this short Registration Form