** Shelbourne suffered a crushing blow to end their 2020 season. Picture: Alwyn Robinson
Shelbourne boss Ian Morris vowed the rebuilding job starts now as the Reds suffered a shock relegation play-off defeat to Longford Town in Richmond Park on Sunday.
The Ballyogan man cut a disconsolate figure following a 1-0 defeat to a Longford side that finished fourth in the First Division last season and came through two play-off games to meet Shels.
Rob Manley’s goal seven minutes after the break settled the tie after Luke Byrne had been sent off midway through the first-half for a last-man challenge.
Shels looked to have secured their Premier Division future four weeks ago with a 1-0 victory over Sligo Rovers that saw them move eight points clear of Finn Harps.
An improbable escape from the Donegal side saw them win three of their last four, ending the European ambitions of St Patrick’s Athletic and Waterford, condemning Shels to a play-off.
The Reds never really got going against an impressive footballing Longford side and could have no complaints about the outcome.
Promotion is no foregone conclusion with a professional Galway United side and Cork City, recently bought out by billionaire Trevor Hemmings, lying in wait.
“I’m not joking with you, this year has probably aged me about ten years,” a world-weary Morris told the Dublin Gazette.
“It’s been absolutely a whirlwind having to deal with it. And that’s the frustration – we only ended up in the bottom two on the last day of the season. This is only half a season, really.
“We’d have been coming up to July and in this half of the season, it would have been a change of bodies, and looking to be more ruthless in games. Unfortunately we fell short at the wrong time.”
He added: “Today has really summed up our season. We had a man sent off, we concede a terrible goal, don’t really capitalise on any sniff of a chance at the top end. I’m just frustrated.
“That team that played today was 80-90% of the team that got us promoted. There was this myth that we were throwing money around left, right and centre.
“We were OK this year and we were competitive. We could have been be mid-table or higher up the table, but we ended up where we deserved to be.
“I can’t have any complaints – the table doesn’t lie and results don’t lie. It’s been a frustrating year all-round but it’s difficult to put it into words.
“We’ll just have to add bodies and go again, regroup in the next few days, which will be tough for everyone.
“There are lads who I will look to keep and target, but the budget is obviously going to change so we’ll look at things a little differently.”
Kilnamanagh man Daire Doyle is a former Shels player but he couldn’t contain his excitement after managing Longford to end their four-year exile from the top tier.
“We’ve come here and I thought we played all the football but one huge thing we had was how much they were prepared to work for each other.
“How much they were prepared to help each other and fight for each other – that’s what’s won us the game today,” he told the Gazette.