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