Shelbourne football club was formed in 1885 in the Ringsend / Sandymount area of Dublin by a group of men led by Mr. James Rowan. The club took its name from the nearby Shelbourne Road and Shelbourne House hostelry where a collection took place to enable the club to purchase its first set of gear and pay its affiliation fee. The club’s first pitch was at Havelock Square just behind the north terrace at Lansdowne Road.
In Shelbourne’s second season, their first in competitive competition, they played 28 matches, won 25, drew 2 and lost only 1. Their goal tally was 109 for and 15 against. They won the principal junior competitions – the Leinster Junior Cup and League Championship. Not content with this the club decided to enter the senior ranks for the 1897-98 Season and reached the Leinster Senior Cup Final at their first attempt, only to lose to Bohemians. They also finished runners-up in the Leinster Senior League.
The club made it into the Final of the Irish Cup in 1905 but were beaten by Distillery on that occasion. It was not long before the name Shelbourne went onto the cup. The following year the Dublin side defeated Belfast Celtic by 2-0 and so became the first Southern club to win the IFA cup. The cup was to be won twice more in 1911 and 1920 before their association with the Irish Football Association was to come to an end.
Shelbourne were founder members of the League of Ireland on its formation in 1921. In 1925-26 Shelbourne won the League of Ireland for the first time when they won the title with two points to spare over local rivals Shamrock Rovers. It was not until 1939 that Shelbourne won the FAI Cup for the first time when the beat Sligo Rovers 1-0 after a replay at Dalymount Park. At this time the club were playing their home matches at Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium, where they stayed until 1949. The club moved grounds many times between 1949 and 1989 before the late Tony Donnelly took over as Chairman of the club and helped purchase and develop Tolka Park and turn it into the best soccer stadium in the country.
One of the clubs most exciting periods was in the early 60’s. Manager Gerry Doyle assembled one of the best and most exciting teams in the League of Ireland. During this period Shelbourne won the League Championship once and the F.A.I. Cup twice and qualified for Europe where they met some of the top clubs in Europe including Barcelona, Athletico Madrid, and Sporting Lisbon. Some of the Shelbourne players at that time who went on to win International caps were: - Tony Dunne (who won a European cup medal with Manchester United), Freddie Strahan, Christy Doyle, Eric Barber, Jackie Hennessy and Tommy Carroll.
In 1964 Shelbourne reached the second round of the Fairs Cup (now the UEFA Cup) when they defeated Belenenses of Portugal in a play-off at Dalymount Park after two draws between the sides.
Between 1971 - when Shelbourne won the Leinster Senior Cup and the Shield - and 1992 the Club went through its leanest period and its very existence was threatened on several occasions.
Pat Byrne was appointed Player-Manager in 1988 and he was to lay the foundations for what was to become the revival of Shelbourne Football Club. It took Pat Byrne four years to get the blend he wanted with experienced players like Mick Neville, Jody Byrne and Gary Howlett teaming up with Gary Haylock, Padraig Dully, Greg Costello and Brian Flood to form one of the most exciting League of Ireland teams for years.
Shelbourne won the League Championship in 1992 for the first time in thirty, years with a brand of football that was comparable to that played by the great Shelbourne team of the “Sixties”. The following year Shelbourne won the F.A.I. Cup and this win also bridged a thirty-year gap since the club last won this trophy.
Dermot Keely was appointed Manager at the start of the 1998/99 season and led the club to the “Double” in the season 1999/2000 for the first time in the clubs 105 year history.
At the end of season 2001/2002 season, after Shelbourne had won the league title for the second time in two years, manager Dermot Keely resigned saying that he had taken the club as far as he could.
There was great interest in the managerial vacancy at Tolka Park but the club decided to appoint Pat Fenlon as Player-Manager. Pat was a vastly experienced player having played with Chelsea, St. Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians, Linfield, Shamrock Rovers as well as Shelbourne and was a qualified UEFA coach. In his first season as manager, Pat took Shelbourne to runners up spot in the league and UEFA Cup qualification.
If Pat’s first season was good, his second was even better. Despite elimination in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Cup, Shels went on to win their 11th league title - their third title in four seasons. Pat Fenlon’s dealings in the transfer market were the key to their success. He signed Jason Byrne from Bray Wanderers and Jason turned into one of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of the league.
In 2004 Shelbourne became the first Irish club to reach the third qualifying round of the Champions League, only to be eliminated by Deportivo La Coruna despite heroic performances, both at home and away. Despite a tough season in which they played eight matches in Europe, manager Pat Fenlon kept the players focused and they finished the season as champions, winning back to back titles for the first time in the club's history.
Despite winning the League title for the thirteenth time in 2006, the season will not be remembered for the clubs on-field activities. The club found itself with serious cash-flow problems and mounting debts which nearly forced the club out of existence and led to the departure of most of its players. Shelbourne were eventually granted a First Division licence and, under the management of the returning Dermot Keely, started life in the First Division. In the 2008 season, they lost out on promotion in the last match, when they only managed a draw, when a win was required. Again in 2009, Shels lost out on promotion, losing out to Sporting Fingal in the promotion/relegation semi-final.
Former Reds central defender & assistant manager, Alan Mathews was appointed manager in July 2010, Dermot Keely having decided to call it a day, some weeks earlier. Keely’s assistant Colin O’Neill had taken over as interim manager for those weeks. In August 2010, Shelbourne won the re-introduced Leinster Senior Cup and narrowly missed out on promotion play-offs, losing their final game to Waterford United.
Shelbourne were finally promoted to the Premier Division in 2011 and reached the FAI Cup Final following victories over Limerick in the Quarter-Finals (after extra time).
Season 2012 saw Shelbourne finish eighth out of eleven teams on their return to the Premier Division. The Club also reached the Cup semi-finals, losing to Derry in a replay at Tolka Park. In May 2013, with the team languishing at the bottom of the league table, Manager Alan Mathews resigned from his position and was replaced by another former Assistant Manager, Johnny McDonnell. The initial ‘bounce’ wasn’t enough to save Shelbourne from relegation, and after just two seasons back in the Premier Division, they returned to the First Division for the 2014 season.
Season 2014 saw us end in second position in the league, but failed to gain promotion at the first try, losing out to Galway United in the play-off.
When Johnny McDonnell left the club in December 2014, Kevin Doherty, who had eight year's service with the club as player (twice), coach, under 21 team manager and assistant to McDonnell, was appointed as his successor. In Doherty's first season in senior management, a late revival, following a mid-season slump, left the club just short of making the promotion play-offs.
Results in 2016 were not as good, however, and with the team struggling in mid-season, Kevin Doherty resigned his position as manager.
Another former player (1998 – 2006) and holder of the record for club appearances at the club, Owen Heary, took up the reins. The task was great for Heary, who was previously manager at Bohemians and Sligo Rovers, and ultimately he was unable to lift the team up the league table and Shelbourne ended the season in sixth place out of eight teams.