Sligo Rovers and the Leitrim connection

Sligo Rovers are for many of us, our local league of Ireland soccer team, and they created their own piece of history last Saturday week, when they were crowned League Champions, for the first time in thirty five years, after defeating great Dublin rivals St Patrick’s Athletic by three goals to two at the Showgrounds, in front of over five thousand six hundred fans.

Sligo Rovers are for many of us, our local league of Ireland soccer team, and they created their own piece of history last Saturday week, when they were crowned League Champions, for the first time in thirty five years, after defeating great Dublin rivals St Patrick’s Athletic by three goals to two at the Showgrounds, in front of over five thousand six hundred fans.

Mixed Blessings with Kevin Blessing

At the final whistle, the supporters flooded onto the pitch to congratulate this current crop of history makers, and there were emotional tears of jubilation from the victorious players and fans. The ‘Bit O Red’ last won the league crown by a point from Bohemians, under manager Billy Sinclair in 1977; since that league win for this club, we have had many an introduction to new revelations such as, local radio, mobile phones, saorview, sat navs and LM number plates, to name but a few, which left me wondering, what changes there will be, come the next time Rovers are crowned league champions, if any?

The night before Sligo Rovers were crowned league Champions, former Rovers full back, Seamus Coleman, had a tough night playing for Trapatonni’s Republic of Ireland side, during their 6-1 hammering by Germany at the Aviva Stadium in their World Cup qualifier game. Seamus had spoken on Ocean FM in the build up to the German game, he also had great hope and admiration for the Bit O’ Red, and was wishing them well in their quest to be crowned league champions.

Many a fine player has togged out for the Rovers down through the years, including our own Leitrim senior footballer, Emlyn Mulligan, from Kinlough. I know that Emyln was thought of very highly during his tenure in the youth system at the club and thankfully for Leitrim GAA supporters, he decided to dedicate his time to our county’s cause, and turned his back on a professional soccer career.

There are many pockets of Rovers fans dotted around our county such as Drumshanbo, Carrick On Shannon, Leitrim Village, Drumcong, Drumkeerin, Glenfarne, Dromahair, Manorhamilton, Ballinaglera, Killarague, Glenade, Jamestown, Kiltyclogher and parts of Dowra. Some of my own mates were introduced to the Showgrounds by their fathers and grandfathers, others became supporters while studying in the town’s local college (Sligo RTC, or IT Sligo, as it has become known today).

I have enjoyed some wonderful nights of celebration with Sligo Rovers Football Club.

Most memorable celebrations include the two FAI Cup victories over the past couple of years and I was fortunate enough to be handed the MC gig on the back of the trailer for both of those homecomings. In 2010, Sligo Rovers defeated Shamrock Rovers on penalties in the final, which saw the Cup return to Sligo for the first time since 1994.

That night was hosted by the Sligo Mayor at the time, Matt Lyons, and took place in front of the Town Hall on Quay Street in Sligo Town. It was my job that night to build up the atmosphere ahead of the team’s arrival onto the trailer, that stood in front of the Hall. When the team appeared, they were introduced to the crowd as they had lined out the day before in the Aviva Staium. The biggest cheer of the night was saved for two players in particular, team captain, Conor O’Grady, a Sligo townie himself, (Conor’s mum is originally from Balinaglera), and goalkeeper, Ciaran Kelly, who saved the penalties that assured victory.

The marshals on duty that night for the homecoming, asked me to cut short the Black Eyed Peas, ‘I Gotta Feeling’, half-way through, as they were concerned for the crowd and team’s safety, after the trailer with the team on board and myself was starting to move as a result of the jubilant celebrations.

Last November, Rovers were again victorious in the cup final, this time against Shelbourne and yet again on penalties. For the homecoming, it was decided to move the celebrations to the Showgrounds, as Mayor Rosaleen O’Grady presided. Rovers arrived home with the FAI Cup for the second successive year, and yours truly was designated the MC role, on the trailer yet again. One by one, the players were introduced to an ecstatic crowd, each receiving a thunderous ovation as they made their way on to the platform. Club Chairman, Michael Toolan spoke a few but memorable words on that night and told the crowd that League success in 2012 would be the club’s immediate priority.

I recall the morning shortly before the new season started, I took a call off-air from Michael Toolan, who told me that the club’s manager, Paul Cook, was leaving the Showgrounds to take over at Accrington Stanley.

I was devastated, not only for myself but more so for the very loyal Sligo Rovers supporters and for how they would feel and react when the news broke; not ideal preparations with the new season only days away, I thought to myself. I didn’t let my feelings get in the way, as it was my job to bring the Chairman on air, to break the news, over the airwaves to the Sligo Rovers supporters. A couple of days later, Ian Barraclough was appointed as manager at the club and to be honest the club hasn’t looked back since. What a season 2012 has turned out to be for the Rovers.

This Friday night, Sligo Rovers will be officially handed the Airtricity Premier Division League Cup after their final game of the season, at home to Shamrock Rovers; a fitting opponent, a game which kcks off at 7:45pm . What a season 2012 has been for the Rovers …and for all those very loyal Leitrim supporters.