There could be a lot to look for­ward to in new sea­son

The Sligo Champion - - SPORT -

THE ri­valry be­tween the two Rovers I think has al­ways been one slightly weighted to one side. In Sligo, we love beat­ing Shams. It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s an un­der 15s friendly match on a Sun­day af­ter­noon in Long­ford in Fe­bru­ary. When red beats green, there’s al­ways an added sense of sat­is­fac­tion.

I think that par­tic­u­lar ri­valry is felt more the west. In Tal­laght, there’s more nee­dle when it comes to Bohs or Shels. That’s not to say they don’t still en­joy putting us in our place on oc­ca­sion.

John Ma­hon was only ten when Sligo Rovers beat Sham­rock Rovers in the 2010 FAI Cup Fi­nal. The most re­cent spat be­tween our­selves and the Hoops was at its height around then. Shams saw Rovers as the up­starts from the coun­try­side, slowly pro­gress­ing up the league table un­der Paul Cook.

Michael O’Neill had just won the league ti­tle with an ex­tremely tal­ented squad and would go on to do it again twelve months later along with qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the Europa League group stages.

At the time, Shams looked in­vin­ci­ble. It seemed they would be the hoop we needed to jump if we were to push on from re­spec­tive third and sec­ond place fin­ishes in 2010 and ‘11.

It was hard at any age not to get caught up in the furore of a ‘clash of the Rovers’. There was some­thing about those games and there still is. Even if to­day, it’s pride more than tro­phies at stake.

For Ma­hon, it must have been such a thrill not only to score your first se­nior goal, but to do so against Shams, a team you’ve grown up in the midst of a ri­valry with.

Ger Lyttle said on a few oc­ca­sions that had John been play­ing for a Dublin club or Cork or Dun­dalk, he wouldn’t be in the league much longer. We’ll never know if that would have been the case but I don’t think he’s at all far off the mark with that pre­sump­tion.

It’s funny then, that a sea­son which started with ex­cite­ment sur­round­ing a 34-year-old Brazil­ian and for­mer Liver­pool striker, ended with such pos­i­tiv­ity and hope sur­round­ing a few teenagers from Col­looney, Tub­ber­curry, Done­gal Town and Car­rick-on-Shan­non.

Maybe Shams were in hol­i­day mode, but the team that Stephen Bradley put out at the Show­grounds on Fri­day night weren’t ex­actly in­ex­pe­ri­enced them­selves.

The likes of Alan Man­nus, Greg Bol­ger, Ro­nan Finn and Joey O’Brien are house­hold names. Ma­hon, Liam Ker­ri­gan, Jack Keaney, Niall Mo­ra­han and Dar­ren Collins each went toe-to-toe with medal win­ners and came out on top.

Liam Buck­ley men­tioned in his first few words with lo­cal re­porters, how im­pressed he was with the five teenagers that took part. There are wor­ries that the new Rovers boss won’t utilise the younger play­ers as much as Lyttle did. But it does seem that he is will­ing to give them a fair crack.

In Sligo, Buck­ley won’t have the lux­ury of the cash which was avail­able to him at Pat’s. It’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent game for him try­ing to at­tract play­ers to the north west than to the com­forts of a big city. As it was for each of his suc­ces­sors, so keep­ing the younger play­ers in­volved will be key.

Right now, Buck­ley is a very solid choice. He’s the most ex­pe­ri­enced man­ager we’ve had since Micky Adams and the most dec­o­rated. He’s spent the span of his man­age­rial ca­reer in the League of Ire­land and knows the ins and outs and what it takes to be suc­cess­ful.

Of course, there’s no guar­an­tees. You could land Pep Guardi­ola in Sligo tonight and he could be a disas­ter.

Buck­ley has fin­ished out­side the top four in his last two full sea­sons with Pat’s, but a fresh start and new project could do won­ders for him and for us.

Ev­ery ap­point­ment comes with a risk. It will take time and there will need to be more progress at the end of next sea­son than shown in the most re­cent. But Rovers’ lat­est gam­ble is cal­cu­lated to say the least.

Last win­ter there was a sense of some­thing to come un­der Lyttle which never ma­te­ri­alised. This year, it al­most feels more se­cure, more hope­ful.

With the ma­jor­ity of the ten play­ers signed up still in their teens and a few to leave, there is plenty of work for the Dubliner to do. Maybe it’s the ex­u­ber­ance of youth that we wit­nessed Fri­day night leav­ing its mark, but there could be a lot to look for­ward to in 2019.

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