Leeds United Tour Diary: Whites receive warm welcome at Tolka Park

Tolka Park, the home of Shelbourne Rovers FC. 
PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Tolka Park, the home of Shelbourne Rovers FC. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Leeds United have used Tolka Park as a pre-season venue many times before but tonight’s game could well be their last at the ground.

Shelbourne are in the process of moving to Dalymount Park, the home of Bohemians and a venue not far from their current stadium in Dublin. They plan to relocate within the next 18 months as part of a redevelopment of council-owned Dalymount.

Tolka Park is a quirky but proud arena, originally opened in the 1950s, but disrepair has seen parts of the stadium closed to spectators and Shelbourne have understandably held back from investing more cash in a venue which seems destined to fall into the hands of property developers before long.

A Shelbourne supporters group, the 1895 Trust, has been voicing concerns about the mooted groundshare but one look at Tolka Park tells you why its chairman, Joe Casey, is ready to go.

* Shelbourne’s willingness to accommodate friendlies with Leeds is unquestionable. A year ago, the club finalised plans for a summer fixture with ex-head coach Neil Redfearn – only to see Redfearn replaced and Uwe Rosler take his squad to Austria instead.

Leeds were late in requesting a meeting this time around, largely because Garry Monk took on the job as first-team boss on June 2, but Shelbourne found room for them in their schedule despite playing Swindon Town at Tolka Park last night.

Swindon faced a low-strength Shelbourne side as the Irish club’s new manager, Owen Heary, held players back for the visit of United. Shels, who are in the middle of their domestic season, also agreed to delay their next league game against Cabinteely by 24 hours.

Casey is a lifelong Leeds fan and always delighted to have United in town. But the income from tonight’s game should equate to around a month’s wages for Shelbourne – a significant sum in the Irish leagues.

* Swindon’s friendly at Tolka Park yesterday drew an estimated crowd of 200. In contrast, Shelbourne have sold 1,500 advance tickets for this evening’s match and are optimistic of taking the final attendance well over 2,000. Shelbourne’s average crowd falls somewhere between 400 and 600.

* United owner Massimo Cellino has been in Ireland all week, taking in training sessions at the FAI’s headquarters near Dublin. He will be at tonight’s match and the Elland Road board should be well represented with chief executive Ben Mansford also expected to attend.

Shelbourne are not blessed with the biggest of boardrooms but they have done what they can to make Cellino feel welcome – including a trip to the shops for a bottle of the Italian’s favourite tipple, Chivas Regal.

* Liam Cooper’s injury – ruling him out of the Shelbourne game – gives him the opportunity to make his commentary debut at Tolka Park.

The defender will co-commentate with LUTV’s Thom Kirwin as Garry Monk’s players get their first taste of a game in more than two months. Despite the prospect of a match ahead, there was no let-up in intensity from Monk who put his squad through a training session first thing this morning.

Leeds United director of football Victor Orta. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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