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FOR­MER Sligo Rovers boss Ger­ard Lyttle has claimed that he had agreed a deal for next sea­son with the club, be­fore he was then told that his con­tract would not be re­newed for 2019. Lyttle learned that he would not be get­ting a new deal the day af­ter the Mother­well fi­asco, when Rovers were knocked out of the Irn Bru Cup by the Un­der 20 team of Mother­well. The Belfast man had been vo­cal for some time over the need to sort his fu­ture, and he was con­fi­dent that a new deal would be signed, hav­ing al­ready ver­bally agreed to one, he claims. He had also be­gan the process of meeting play­ers with a view to start­ing re­cruit­ment early for the 2019 sea­son

“It came as a sur­prise to me,” he told The Sligo Cham­pion. “I’d been meeting play­ers un­der in­struc­tions of the board to go ahead and go for tar­gets. I’ve met four/five play­ers from the top two clubs and I felt that we were very ad­vanced in ne­go­ti­at­ing with them and get­ting them over the line. We had an agree­ment in place with the club that I would be the man to take the club for­ward next year. That’s the dis­ap­point­ing fac­tor in all this. I had ver­bally agreed ev­ery­thing, and then it was turned a week later. They then told me they weren’t go­ing to be re­new­ing my con­tract so I was very dis­ap­pointed with that.”

Lyttle also claimed that he was told on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions to­wards the end of the sea­son that a con­tract would be sorted for him ‘soon’. He feels the club have han­dled the whole sce­nario poorly.

De­spite the pressure from many fans to make a change, he says the board were will­ing to give him a deal for next sea­son. It is not the fact that he wasn’t wanted next sea­son that an­gered him, but moreso the fact that he was led to be­lieve that he would be stay­ing. He feels let down by what he feels was a u-turn by the club.

“On the club’s be­half it was han­dled poorly. I was strung along, there’s no doubt about it. To be hon­est with you, I was told a few times by peo­ple I know in the game to be care­ful that I wasn’t be­ing strung along be­cause they felt it didn’t sound right. I was very con­fi­dent of get­ting a new con­tract. We were told be­fore Cork and Liv­ingston game ‘get this out of the way and we’ ll get some­thing sorted’. didn’t hap­pen. We were told af­ter the Lim­er­ick game, and that didn’t hap­pen. It was very un­set­tling for ev­ery­one be­cause the play­ers are ask­ing what their fu­ture is, they want to know where the man­ager’s go­ing to be, it’s a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion to man­age.

“I was then told to get the Bray game out of the way, and that’s when we had agreed a deal and put it all to bed. We went ahead and won the Bray game and se­cured our place in the league with three games to go, which was progress. Last year we sur­vived on the last day. That was the bit­ter pill to swal­low. I don’t want to be bit­ter be­cause I have a lot of re­spect for a lot of peo­ple in Sligo, I love the sup­port­ers, the club, all the hon­est peo­ple work­ing there. I’d like to think I can come back here as a fan and watch games and get along with peo­ple. The way it was han­dled was very dis­re­spect­ful.”

He was also crit­i­cal of the club’s rea­son­ing for the de­ci­sion, cit­ing the re­ac­tion to that in­fa­mous de­feat in Scot­land, he claims.

“I was told that there was a mas­sive back­lash from the Mother­well game and this was the rea­son. Which I thought was pretty pa­thetic. Any­one that was in Mother­well or in­volved in the trip knows that it was a dis­as­trous trip for us. We’re in an air­port from 12 in the af­ter­noon un­til 10 that night. We then got a flight can­celled and had to go to a ho­tel. Four hours sleep the boys got.

“They were up at 5.30am to get a 6am bus for a 9am flight to play a 3pm game. Prepa­ra­tion wise, it was pretty aw­ful. I thought that could have been dealt with bet­ter and it wasn’t. You’re the man­ager, you want to man­age your team. We knew in the warm-up that they were dead on their feet and dur­ing the game they were drop­ping like flies, Re­gan and Paddy McClean came off in­jured, David Caw­ley prob­a­bly shouldn’t have played. To be told then that ‘ this is one of the rea­sons you’re not be­ing given a con­tract’ for me was bad man­age­ment.”

It’s two weeks now since Lyttle learned of the club’s de­ci­sion and he has now had time to re­flect. The last cou­ple of weeks have not been easy for him, nor have they been easy for his fam­ily who made the move to Sligo to sup­port him dur­ing his ten­ure as Rovers boss.

It’s been a dread­ful sea­son for the Bit O’Red, although there have been a few small glim­mers of hope at stages through­out the sea­son.

It felt as if, though, ev­ery time they took one step for­ward, they were back to square one in the next game. Lyttle is still learn­ing though, and he un­der­stands the frus­tra­tion of fans.

He un­der­stands that things didn’t go the way they should have this year.

“I’m feel­ing frus­trated. I was a lit­tle bit down in terms of how it all went for me. I think I’m over it now. I think the job I did un­der hard cir­cum­stances, re­sources and things like that, was pretty good. We met most of our tar­gets given to us, lead­ing up to me leav­ing, the stats show that we were mak­ing progress. We were joint fourth best in-form team since the break. We had the third best away record and we gave nine Un­der 19s their de­but this sea­son. John Ma­hon has been a reve­la­tion in terms of how he’s pro­gressed and de­vel­oped.

“We knew it was go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult year be­cause that was the way we were go­ing. It was never go­ing to be straight­for­ward. Long-term we were hop­ing that they were go­ing to stand by us and that’s a hugely dis­ap­point­ing fac­tor be­cause there won’t be one (long term). All the work that we’ve put in. And when I did take the job the big at­trac­tion for me was sta­bil­ity and blood­ing our own play­ers and I feel I’ve done that and done that well and now we’re not get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to go to the next level.”

The for­mer Cliftonville boss says he took the de­ci­sion to move his fam­ily to Sligo so that they could all live and breathe Sligo Rovers, and ex­pe­ri­ence what it is like to be part of the club.

“Yeah that was me be­ing me, be­ing com­mit­ted to the cause and the club. I did say when I took the job that I knew pre­vi­ous man­agers had moved a dis­tance away to get away from all of it. I wanted to feel the frus­tra­tion of sup­port­ers, I wanted to be part of it, I wanted to feel the ex­cite­ment of it all and ba­si­cally be a sup­porter, know­ing what they wanted. I do know that it’s been a very frus­trat­ing sea­son. But in re­al­ity, what we’re work­ing un­der, what we had, I thought some­times we were punch­ing a bit.”

Now, look­ing back, he feels that per­haps openly stat­ing that Europe was a tar­get this year was naive, con­sid­er­ing the bud­get he had to work with.

“At the start of the sea­son we prob­a­bly shouldn’t have been talk­ing about Europe. It was very fool­ish of us to be say­ing that be­cause we knew the bud­get, the squad size and to get Europe would have been a small mir­a­cle. I think we were get­ting there. We were get­ting an un­der­stand­ing of our style of play, we had a big turnover in play­ing staff.”

He has also re­ceived some crit­i­cism for his re­cruit­ment dur­ing the sum­mer win­dow when the club des­per­ately needed a right-back as a re­sult of Gary Boy­lan’s long-term in­jury. But that, he claims, was out of his hands.

“We off­loaded play­ers in the win­dow un­der the im­pres­sion that we were go­ing to be al­lowed to bring in a right-back and a cen­tre for­ward which we had iden­ti­fied and was pretty much a done deal and then it was pulled away from us. We had to then use Sea­mus Sharkey as a right­back, Kyle Cal­lan McFad­den as a right-back, Jack Keaney as a right-back.”

Work­ing un­der a tight bud­get al­ways makes the job tougher. But Lyttle wished to de­bunk the myth that he is work­ing with one of the high­est bud­gets in the league.

“If I had the bud­get peo­ple think I had, I’m not be­ing dis­re­spect­ful to the play­ers, but you would have seen a higher qual­ity group of play­ers. I tar­geted play­ers at the start of the sea­son who I wanted to bring in, Bastien Hery, Ga­van Holo­han, and the likes. I worked out that there was six play­ers I tar­geted and out of the six, five of them ended up at the top three clubs. We couldn’t do it. The bud­get didn’t al­low us to do it, we had to look else­where and youth was a big fac­tor in that. It didn’t bother me too much be­cause I was con­fi­dent that we could de­velop youth play­ers for the fu­ture of the club. Hope­fully who­ever does come in, fol­lows that through and al­lows these young lads to de­velop be­cause they have huge po­ten­tial.

“There’s only so much blame a man­ager can take. A man­ager will take the blame through­out the sea­son, and I’ve never made ex­cuses about that, but the fans need to know some­times that there are re­straints there. The bud­get is def­i­nitely, a myth. The bud­get prob­a­bly is, where we are in terms of our league po­si­tion. The bud­get we had was one of the low­est in the league, if the club say dif­fer­ent then put it out there and show the fans what it is.”

Does he have any re­grets? Is there any­thing he would have done dif­fer­ently through­out his 18 month spell at Sligo Rovers? Un­doubt­edly.

“You al­ways have re­grets. I prob­a­bly could have been a lit­tle bit stronger with the board but I wanted to work with them and I un­der­stood a lot of the work peo­ple put in vol­un­tar­ily. I prob­a­bly should have been stronger in terms of want­ing tar­gets and get­ting them. Even the

re­sources aren’t great, I hope a new man­ager can work un­der bet­ter re­sources. We wanted to do a pre-sea­son in Belfast and our bud­get didn’t al­low us to do that. We had no games go­ing into the Lim­er­ick game on grass, it was all astro. We’re a pro­fes­sional club and these things are im­por­tant. In terms of re­grets, I re­gret not push­ing on a lit­tle bit more. I’m not say­ing I re­gret not be­ing a bit more vo­cal in terms of the bud­get, it is what it is. It’s an­other man­ager’s prob­lem now.”

There is a lot of neg­a­tiv­ity sur­round­ing Lyttle’s reign as Sligo Rovers man­ager. He un­der­stands that. But some­where be­neath the dark clouds, there are some fond mem­o­ries for him.

He har­bours no ill feel­ing to­wards the club at this stage, and is adamant that he wishes only the best for the club.

“My high­light would prob­a­bly be the last game of the sea­son last year. I re­mem­ber Kevin Deery com­ing in as as­sis­tant man­ager last year, say­ing ‘we’re doomed’. We did think it be­cause of the squad and where we were and what we were do­ing. To pull it off (sur­vival), on the last day of the sea­son and fin­ish­ing level with St. Pats and the bud­get they had, was a great achieve­ment. I’ve a lot of high­lights in terms of liv­ing here and be­ing part of the club and con­nect­ing with the fans. I re­ally did en­joy my time here, I re­ally wanted it to work. I thought I worked pro­fes­sion­ally and hard. I know there were fans there that didn’t agree with some things I did but that’s foot­ball. I think Sligo Rovers is a won­der­ful club with won­der­ful peo­ple around it.

“I think peo­ple need to be re­al­is­tic, the bud­get that I was work­ing un­der wasn’t re­ally re­al­is­tic in terms of top four.”

There will have been many low points. For both him and the sup­port­ers. But again, he feels that some de­ci­sions made by the club have not helped through­out the sea­son. He was man­ager for both FAI Cup ex­its to Long­ford Town, he was there when Rovers should have ad­vanced to the fi­nal of the EA Sports Cup this sea­son but failed mis­er­ably.

“The low point is ob­vi­ously now, no doubt about it. The Long­ford one was very low, both this year and last year. I’d say Bray but that was bad prepa­ra­tion. The game should never have gone ahead on a Sun­day af­ter­noon when other teams are re­fus­ing to play, but not Sligo Rovers. They’re the only club that agree to games that suit other clubs.

“For me there’s still a soft­ness about the club that way, we bow down too much. We played Lim­er­ick on Satur­day and played Dun­dalk on the Mon­day. It suited Dun­dalk, not us. Bray, it suited Bray. I was told that the World Cup was on and they wanted spec­ta­tors in. No dis­re­spect to Bray but they don’t get spec­ta­tors. It was pa­thetic.”

Lyttle’s close re­la­tion­ship with his play­ers has been crit­i­cised by some in cer­tain quar­ters, but he has de­fended his bond with his play­ers.

The mes­sages on so­cial me­dia from his play­ers, the texts and phone calls soft­ened the blow some­what. But he wants peo­ple to know that talk of him be­ing ‘ too nice’ is noth­ing more than idle gos­sip.

“The play­ers knew the vi­sion I had. I thought the sea­son com­ing was go­ing to be a big sea­son be­cause we iden­ti­fied where we were go­ing and what we needed. Play­ers be­ing out of con­tract isn’t easy. They didn’t know where their fu­ture was go­ing to be be­cause the man­ager didn’t know where his fu­ture was go­ing to be. It was very over­whelm­ing when I saw all the mes­sages. I know there was neg­a­tives and that’s fine, I’m big and ugly enough to take that.

“It gave me a mas­sive con­fi­dence boost to see that. Nor­mally nine times out of ten it’s the play­ers who get the man­ager the sack and they want him out but in this case they knew how hard we’ve worked, they knew how much we’ve brought them out. We had a good re­la­tion­ship. If they were good, they were good, if they were bad, they were bad. They were al­ways told.

“I had a bond with my play­ers. I was close with them. But they knew there was a line and if they crossed it they would be dealt with. You’ve prob­a­bly seen that with the amount of play­ers we let go dur­ing the win­dow. There was one or two in­ci­dents in the chang­ing room through­out the sea­son, where it was hasty. The Long­ford game, we still laugh about it. Kyle text me and said ‘at least I’ ll not get a pizza over the head’. When we were de­feated by Long­ford last year I re­mem­ber Ryan Casey and the boys were sit­ting there. The pizza was stacked up be­side Mick Leahy and Kyle McFad­den and I went apesh*t and I went on a rant and leathered the piz­zas and it all went over Mick Leahy, the quietest man in the world, and Kyle and I’m go­ing off on one and I shouted ‘don’t touch that pizza’ and it was drip­ping down their faces. You hear sto­ries that I was too nice or I was too pally pally but that’s bull. Ask the play­ers. I man­aged. For me, one of my strengths is man man­age­ment.” Although few would agree with him, Lyttle felt that progress was be­ing made this sea­son. Some crit­i­cised his style of play, and upon his ap­point­ment as Rovers man­ager, he said he wanted to give the club a play­ing iden­tity as it was lack­ing. That plan was yet to come to fruition, in re­al­ity.

Lyttle is adamant though that next sea­son was when it was all re­ally go­ing to come to­gether. We will never know how that would have worked out.

“This sea­son I thought we were get­ting there. I like at­tack­ing full-backs so we were work­ing re­ally hard on get­ting Re­gan Donelon to at­tack, we couldn’t do it on the right side be­cause Gary Boy­lan got in­jured and that threw us back. We were slowly get­ting there. I thought the fit­ness lev­els had im­proved.We didn’t have an out and out strength and con­di­tion­ing coach, that was pulled from un­der our feet as well be­cause the bud­get didn’t al­low for it. We were do­ing the coach­ing, the man­ag­ing, the anal­y­sis, the strength and con­di­tion­ing, we were do­ing ev­ery­thing. It was a tough job. We’re very proud of the job we did.”

As for now, Lyttle is go­ing on hol­i­day with his fam­ily to get away from it all. He has had some job of­fers, but he will take his time be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion now on where his fu­ture lies.

“I think the next job that I take will be an im­por­tant move, not just for me but for my fam­ily as well. I was com­mit­ted to mak­ing this work and I’ve got to take them into con­sid­er­a­tion. I have had of­fers from a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent places, one in Swe­den, two in Amer­ica a lit­tle whis­per about one or two dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties here in the south, and one in Scot­land.

“I’ ll take stock of where things went wrong , what I could im­prove on as a man­ager. This is the start of a jour­ney for me. I want to b suc­cess­ful. I won’t rest un­til I get that. I wish Sligo Rovers suc­cess go­ing for­ward. I hope the man­ager com­ing in gets time and I hope the board back him and his plans. Hope­fully we’ ll meet again some­time.”

Sligo Rovers were asked for com­ment but said they did not think it was ap­pro­pri­ate. They did re­it­er­ate their thanks to Ger­ard Lyttle for his ef­forts at the club and con­sider him al­ways wel­come at The Show­grounds. In re­la­tion to fix­ture sched­ul­ing any home team can change their fix­ture with 12 days no­tice and this hap­pened in the cir­cum­stances of the Bray game.



For­mer Rovers man­ager Ger Lyttle. Pic: Eóin Noo­nan/Sports­file


Cap­tain Rhys McCabe cel­e­brates with Lyttle af­ter the vic­tory over Cork City. Eóin Noo­nan/Sports­file

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