After a stellar playing career with some of the League of Ireland’s finest clubs, Shelbourne manager Owen Heary has spent the past few years trying his hand in the dugout rather than on the pitch.
In his day Heary was one of the league’s best defenders and was a key figure at Tolka Park during the golden age of the 2000s, when the Dublin side made a rare Irish impact on the European scene and laid waste to all those around them on the domestic front.
Now in charge of the club where he made such an impression as an intelligent and composed fullback, the 40-year-old is tasked with returning Shels – currently playing in the second-tier – to what many see as their rightful place at the summit of Irish football.
We had a chat with Owen about what the future holds for the club.
Q: Where to next for Shels? Obviously the goal is to go up. But where does the club as a whole go from here? Perhaps the glory days might not come back in the immediate future, but realistically we should be seeing Shels at the top of the Premier.
OH: If we look, I think Shels have been in the First Division eight out of 11 years, and that’s too long for a club such as this. So the [immediate] aim is to get promotion, and if you get it, you’re able to generate more money, you’re playing against Bohs, you’re playing against Pat’s, you’re playing big Dublin derbies, there are bigger crowds.
I think there’s a lot going on now with the club moving to Dalymount in the near future, with the supporters staying away over things happening off the field.
It’s difficult for the club, but you have to be positive all the time.
I think you have to ask, what’s the positive for this year? Well, one thing is we’re still in two cups, we’re bringing through youth players from the under 19s, and we’re also getting a good blend of young and experienced players.
So if we can build on that next year, and we get into the playoffs and [then] into the Premier, the whole thing is to stabilise yourself [there]. If you do that, then hopefully over the next five years we’ll become a regular Premier Division team.
Q: What do you think is the overall perception of the move to Dalymount among players, staff, fans, etc?
OH: It’s positive in the sense that you have a new stadium, and you’re debt-free. But there are negatives to it, too: it’s a Bohs catchment area, and you’re moving from Tolka, where we’ve all had great nights.
But I think the fans understand that, you know, Tolka is falling down, the club is in debt. It just makes sense.
I think the statement that was released by the club has upset some fans, so they are staying away from the [home] games, but are going to the away games.
They’re still Shelbourne supporters, they still follow Shels. So we need to just get the whole club going in one direction again, and if we can do that over the next couple of years then Shels will be in a better place and we can progress and keep them up in the Premier, once we get there.
Q: Now that you’re a manager, what’s your progression plan? Do you have the same aims as a League of Ireland player? Is the goal to earn a move to the UK after proving yourselves here?
OH: No. I think the goal of any manager is to win trophies.
I would love to see Shels getting into the Premier; that’s the goal for us at the moment. It won’t happen this year, but can we improve on what we’ve done last year?
And then hopefully with the playoff back in place next year, we’ve something to aim for: either win the league or hit the playoff.
We have a very young side at Shels, and we don’t have the finances that other clubs have in the First Division or Premier. So, for us, it’s a case of playing and trying to develop players and bring them through. I think we’ve done that over the past year.
If you look we have Mikey Murphy who’s only just finished his Leaving Cert. We’ve Dayle [Rooney], who’s another lad off the under 19s; Aaron Ashe’s come in… young Dylan Grimes is another, and you’ve [also] got Jimmy Brown. So we’ve five players off our under 19s who’ve been developed into first team players.
We’re hoping we can add experienced players and keep progressing. Which we have done: we’ve [brought] in Dean Delaney and Derek Prendergast…
With the under 19s you need experience playing with them. If we can develop a team and keep them together, and keep trying to improve, then hopefully next year we can be in the running and we don’t have to go out and spend money to get players in.
But the downside of it is that other clubs who have money are looking at these players and they can offer them better contracts and take them. That’s the killer for us. But if they’re with us long enough, from an underage setup, then at least we won’t miss out on getting some sort of reward for them moving on.
Part Two of this interview will be available onsite this coming Friday.
Owen Heary was speaking to Paddy Power as part of the Shelbourne v Dublin Devils friendly match. The match was part of Dublin Pride week and the ‘Shels in the Community’ initiative.
The initiative embraces the diversity that exists within the local community. Dublin Devils have made tremendous strides in combating homophobia in football, a cause that is fully supported by all connected with Shelbourne FC.