Rovers begin title defence in Derry

Following a successful pre-season campaign Sligo Roves begin the defence of the Airtricity League Premier Division when they make the journey to The Brandywell on Friday to face Derry City. Friday’s game comes on the back of the first competitive action of the campaign as they easily saw off the challenge of Glentoran in the Setanta Cup on Monday night last, winning 5-0.

Following a successful pre-season campaign Sligo Roves begin the defence of the Airtricity League Premier Division when they make the journey to The Brandywell on Friday to face Derry City. Friday’s game comes on the back of the first competitive action of the campaign as they easily saw off the challenge of Glentoran in the Setanta Cup on Monday night last, winning 5-0.

In what was a one sided victory, the midfield duo of Lee Lynch and David Cawley were particularly impressive while Anthony Elding marked his debut with a goal. Similarly centre-back Evan McMillan marked his first competitive game for the club with a goal, while former youth international Ryan Connolly who arrived at the club last summer also scored his first goal for the club. The other two goals were scored by Limerick native Lee Lynch.

Despite the loss of two of last season’s most valuable team members in Jason McGuinness and Mark Quigley, Sligo Rovers manager Ian Baraclough has retained the services of the majority of last year’s squad and has added quality in the shape of Aaron Greene, Evan McMillan and Anthony Elding. It was also confirmed on Monday night that the signing of exciting attacking midfielder Kieran Djiali, who has previously represented Crystal Palace has also been completed.

Pre-season saw the side see of the challenge of a Sligo/Leitrim representative side, Salthill Devon, Finn Harps, Ballinamallard, Castlebar Celtic while they also spent four days in Jersey where they were subjected to double training sessions. The visit to Jersey also saw Rovers play a Jersey FA select team which the visitors comfortably won. In those six games the Bit o’ Red scored 23 goals and conceded just two as they won five and drew one of their pre-season encounters.

With the spine of last year’s defence in place, in front of arguably the best goalkeeper in the league in Gary Rogers, Rovers have strengthened their midfield and the likes of Lee Lynch and David Cawley are sure to be two players to keep an eye on over the course of the season. After an injury plagued year with Shamrock Rovers, Aaron Greene has returned to The Showgrounds and will no doubt be keen to impress his new manager.

The biggest challenge for Sligo Rovers during the off season was undoubtedly filling the sizable void left by the injury to Danny North and the departure of Mark Quigley. With North not expected to be back to full fitness for perhaps another two months after sustaining a cruciate ligament injury last July the options up front were limited.

Liam Martin has returned to the club following a loan spell with Ballinamallard and has looked particularly impressive in pre-season while the presence of the likes of Raffaele Cretaro and Aaron Greene means there should be no shortage of goals. Also, the signing of imposing striker Anthony Elding, who has previously played with the likes of Leeds United, Grimsby, Preston North End and Fernecvaros is sure to give defenders in the league plenty to think about. The arrival of Kieran Djiali, just days before the start of the season could be the most significant as he is tipped to be one of the most exciting players in the league as he attempts to recover from a number of injury hit seasons.

While Shamrock Rovers are regarded as favourites for the Airtricity League title by many pundits, having assembled a squad that is certainly impressive on paper, Baraclough has arguably a stronger squad than what was at his disposal last year and they will no doubt be fighting to ensure 2013 is the fourth successive year silverware returns to The Showgrounds.