A team of Hollywood script writers couldn’t have come up with the ending that saw Sligo Rovers end a 35 year wait as they defeated St Patrick’s Athletic 3-2 to claim the Airtricity League Premier Division title.
Having taken control of the game with two Raffael Creatro goals in the space of three minutes midway through the opening half the home side, urged on by a crowd of 5,621, looked to be on course for victory.
However, St Pat’s dug deep and equalised in the second half before Mark Quigley clinched the title for the Bit O’Red when he scored an 89th minute penalty. Creatro’s early goals, the first a terrific individual effort, the second a close range header, helped settle the nerves of the bumper home crowd who started arriving in the ground two and a half hours before kick off.
The 35 year wait has seen the club struggle at various points but in recent years first under the guidance of Paul Cook and then this year under Ian Baraclough, Rovers have been playing an attacking style off football that saw them win the FAI Ford Cup twice and the EA Sports cup in the past two years.
In recent years the upward curve of Rovers’ fortunes has been reflected in their final league positions as they finished fourth, third and second before finally landing the elusive prize.
As a spectacle the game itself was a great advert for Irish football and the perfect way to forget about the horror show that had taken place the previous evening in the Aviva Stadium. In front of the live cameras the famous ground looked as well as it ever has.
Having built a new seated stand to coincide with July’s Europa League match against Spartak Trnava, the decision was taken last week to erect a temporary stand to accommodate an additional 800 supporters and that decision proved to be inspired as the bumper attendance helped to create an incredible atmosphere.
While their may have been a party atmosphere before the game, once referee Damian Hancock got proceedings underway everyone became much more nervous. That was until Raffael Creatro struck in the 21st minute with a moment of individual brilliance.
The relief around the ground was palpable and when the same player pounced three minutes later to head home from close range the eruption of noise from the old ground could no doubt have been heard several miles away!
The tension seemed to be lifted and Rovers seemed to be on course for victory but the fact that St Pat’s have been something of a bogey team for Rovers in recent years meant the home support still had reason to be anxious.
Nine minutes after half time St Pat’s pounced for their first goal of the game through Christy Fagan and when Chris Forrester’s deflected shot flew past Gary Rogers, the Showgrounds was silenced, except for the few hundred who had made the journey from Dublin in the hope of seeing their side closing the gap at the top to just three points.
As the half progressed, it looked as though St Pat’s may be on course to spoil the party but there was to be a final twist in the plot as Rovers were awarded with just over a minute remaining.
As The Showgrounds took a deep, collective breath, the calmest man on the pitch and one of the leading candidates to be named player of the year, Mark Quigley, took responsibility for the penalty and effortlessly dispatched it past Barry Murphy.
The sight of the ball crashing to the back of the net was the cue for wild celebrations and although there was still time for Danny Ventre and Sean O’Connor to be given their marching orders the game was all but over and all that was needed was the final whistle to confirm the 35 year wait had come to an end.
The end of the game signalled wild celebrations and as there are still two games remaining, the final home game, against Shamrock Rovers on October 26 will no doubt see similar scenes as club captain Danny Ventre will finally get his hands on the league trophy.
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