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Official Review by Martin McNelis, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
In north Dublin, in the district of Drumcondra and almost in the shadow of the imposing Croke Park sits Tolka Park, home of Shelbourne FC. It is a football venue that was constructed in 1953 and has been used by a variety of clubs over the years including the now defunct Drumcondra FC. It was used latterly by Home Farm FC, but more notably has been Shelbourne's base since 1989. Almost jammed in among terraced housing and the River Tolka, the ground is visible from the main through road in Drumcondra, linking the city with the airport.
The club, known as 'The Shels' were formed in 1895 and are one of Ireland's oldest existing clubs. They are currently playing in the SSE Airtricity First Division and have claimed 13 Irish Premier League titles in their history. Along with numerous domestic cup wins, they have also participated in the UEFA Cup and Champions League qualifiers in the last three decades.
Shelbourne can also boast of being the first League of Ireland club to have a live match broadcast from it when they hosted Derry City in 1996.
Before playing at Tolka, the club played further south of the city at Harold's Cross Stadium, Shelbourne Park, Irishtown Stadium, and even had a short spell at local rivals Bohemian's Dalymount Park. Like their neighbour’s venue, Tolka Park faces an uncertain future due to the lack of funding Shelbourne currently have available and the lack of investment from the Football Association of Ireland. The ground has been owned by Dublin City Council for more than 10 years following the club's financial collapse, which resulted in Shelbourne also losing its licence to participate in the league due to their off field problems. There remains a slight possibility that both Dublin clubs could ground share a purpose built venue or an upgraded Dalymount Park.
Tolka Park has been used for both rugby and as a neutral football venue, hosting a Rugby World Cup match in the year 2000, and played host to three FAI Cup Finals at the turn of the millennium. Shamrock Rovers played here for a full season in the late 1980s and it also hosted two full Republic of Ireland international matches, both against Wales, in 1981 and 1993.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food bars are on your right hand side when entering the ground. Served from two small cabins, one serves hot food including chips/fries, burgers, chicken burgers priced at 3-5 Euros, along with some bottled/cans of soft drinks. The other sells sweets, with popular chocolate bars available at below shop prices.
Tolka Park is similar to neighbours and rivals, Bohemian's Dalymount Park, in that it has visible signs of old and new structures, with open and covered stands and terraces. The Main Stand, known as the Richmond Road end runs the length of the pitch and has an old roof that shows signs of wear. It is the designated family area and has the club bar/social club below it. There are toilet facilities contained in there as well. The dug outs are situated In the front-centre of this stand.
Across from here is the Riverside Stand which runs the majority of that side. It is covered apart from a few rows of seats on either side of it. The Riverside Stand has bright yellow, red, white and blue seats spelling 'Shels' and is a fully seated area for the away support. Above it in the centre there is a small television gantry. From the Main Stand looking left to right, the Ballybough end on the left is an open seated area, which has not been used for some time, but has been a designated area for the away fans. Behind the opposite goal is the newer Drumcondra Stand which was built in 1999. It covers only half of that area and also contains the players and officials dressing rooms. The rest of this area is taken up with small portakabins, which serve as the club shop and for food outlets.
Shelbourne are currently playing to crowds with just 600-800 people showing up for home matches. They have a young group who are located in the Drumcondra Stand that generate some of the singing, noise and colour, often competing with the opposition fans nearby in the Riverside Stand.
Tolka Park has three covered ends and one open air end to cater for fans based on their preferences. There are supporting pillars and floodlight pylons at both the Main Richmond Road and Riverside Stands which will partially obscure your view. The best view offered is likely to be the slightly elevated Drumcondra Stand which gives a more than decent view of all the action and both goals. Although well stewarded you have the freedom of the ground, but may be challenged if trying to get into the two designated ends for away fans. If it is only a couple of people going into this part it shouldn't be a problem.
The ground is on a very busy thoroughfare to and from the city centre. There are a variety of local shops, pubs and eateries, along with ATMs. The train station is nearby along with a very regular bus service.
The Croke Park museum and stadium tour costs €13 for adults, €8.50 for children, €10 for students/seniors, and €35-€40 for families.
The current financial position and the club playing in the second tier has had an impact on the crowds. With the bigger Dublin clubs in the top flight there are few derby matches unless they meet in the cup. Crowds over the last few years have ranged from 600-1,000.
The train is five minutes walk away at Drumcondra Station, and the buses are pretty frequent running every five to ten minutes (numbers 3, 11, 16 and 41).
There is no official designated club parking and street parking some minutes walk away should provide easy access getting to and away from Tolka Park.
There are two entry points to the ground, both on Richmond Road. To the left there are turnstiles for away fans, the middle is for officials, and on the right is the entrance for home fans. In the centre is a ticket booth where you exchange cash for a match ticket. This area is well stewarded and the staff are both friendly and helpful.
Tickets are line with other clubs in both the top flight and first division, with adult tickets priced at 15 Euros, concessions and students 10 Euros, and children 5 Euros.
The club sells a book titled 'Shels - A Grand Old Team To Know,' written by local supporter Christopher Sands and is a definitive history of Shelbourne FC. It can be bought online or at the club shop on match days, priced at 20 Euros.
As Shelbourne are one of the oldest clubs in Ireland, and one of the bigger Dublin sides, Tolka Park for its geography alone is definitely worth a visit.
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42 Lower Drumcondra Rd
Dublin, Dublin 9
(01) 537 8453
132 Drumcondra Road Lower
Dublin, Dublin 9
+353 1 837 1080
Dublin, Dublin 3
+353 1 871 4444