One To Watch in League of Ireland 2011

While Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians were constantly in the spotlight of the 2010 League of Ireland season due to the neck and neck title race, there was one side that nobody paid real heed to, and undeservedly so. They finished only 4 points off the top of the league, with a better goal difference than both Rovers and Bohs, and ended up with more trophies than anybody else in the year.

The team are Sligo Rovers and they’ve been rapidly building up their club again since terrible financial troubles in 2008. They won the 2010 FAI Cup and the League Cup, two of the 5 cups in their history, as well as coming agonizingly close when losing in the 2oo9 FAI Cup final. The Bit O’ Red are most definitely on the rise, and are the team to watch for the upcoming 2011 season.

Sligo Rovers, hoping for league championship in 2011

The two games that probably best sum up the improvement of Sligo Rovers over the past few years are the semi final and the final of the FAI Cup. In this pair of games they played the two teams that finished ahead of them in the league. And by all means they played Bohs and Rovers off the park on both occasions.

Firstly, visiting Bohemians in Dalymount Park, it was obvious for everybody in the stadium at the end of the game that Sligo were the far better team of the night and fully merited their place in the Lansdowne Road cup final. Wave after wave of pressure was put on the home team and it was only a matter of time, in truth, before they were one up and relatively easily succeeded in holding onto the advantage.

And how on earth The Bit O’ Red didn’t score in normal time, or even extra time, of the cup final is simply beyond me. The Hoops didn’t have a hope of winning the game with the skill and style Sligo boasted in the first cup final held in the new Lansdowne Road stadium. ‘Keeper Ciaran Kelly stepped up to the plate and stopped all four of Shamrock Rovers’ penalties to clinch cup glory for the red and whites.

Anybody watching the 2010 season closely will have clearly seen that Sligo were the best footballing team in the league. The Hoops weren’t pleasing on the eye at all with their hoof-ball tactics, while The Gypsies simply lacked that cutting edge. Had Sligo started the season quicker and hit the ground running stronger, I’ve no doubt they would have made it a treble, taking home the League Of Ireland championship as well. With players such as Ndo, Boco and Blinkhorn, Sligo are enthrallingly set up to pose a real threat to claim the 2011 Championship.

Rovers celebrating cup victory

As well as retaining the jewels of last season’s squad, Sligo have also made some excellent signings to hopefully polish off their cutting edge in attempts to be Champions of Ireland for the third time. Former Bohs players Jason McGuinness and Rafael Cretaro have joined the club, and both add real experience and quality to the north-westerners. Alan Kirby and Daryl Horgan have also joined Paul Cooks team, adding more experience in Kirby, and an exciting youth talent in Horgan.

However Gary McCabe has left them to join potential title rivals Shamrock Rovers. Also, Jim Lauchlan, Richard Brush and Conor O’Grady have all departed the Showgrounds club. McCabe would be the only real loss to the team though, as the other three were aging and replaceable, whereas McCabe is only 22 and also joins other young players joining the Tallaght side.

With the four players signing and the four departing, Sligo’s net result is surely a positive one, as their team look even stronger than last year again. They’ll have a nice blend of experience and youth to go with heaps of creativity in the team. If can even somewhat improve on last years season, they can surely end up as league champions.


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