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Friday 18 April 2014

How heroic Rovers upset the odds to win League Cup

We start with the club's success in the League Cup ten years ago.This year marks the 10th anniversary of Sligo Rovers one and only League Cup triumph. While most current fans could rattle off the teams which won the FAI Cup in 1983 and 1994 and the League Championship winning team of 1977, the team which won the League Cup for the only time in the club's history seem to be fo

THIS WEEK, we begin a new occasional column celebrating Sligo Rovers 80th anniversary. The column will recall some of the famous matches and occasions during the club's history as Rovers battled against the odds to keep the show on the road, surviving through good times and bad to earn an indelible place in the hearts and minds of generations of Sligo people at home and abroad.

We start with the club's success in the League Cup ten years ago.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Sligo Rovers one and only League Cup triumph. While most current fans could rattle off the teams which won the FAI Cup in 1983 and 1994 and the League Championship winning team of 1977, the team which won the League Cup for the only time in the club's history seem to be forgotten heroes.

Under the guidance of player-manager, Nicky Reid, who played for Manchester City in the famous 1981 FA Cup final against Spurs, Rovers caused a major surprise by beating Shelbourne, then the top club in the country, in the 1998 League Cup decider.

The final was played over two legs - the first instalment in the Showgrounds on Tuesday, February 17th, and the second game in Tolka Park the following Tuesday, February 24th.

Rovers took a 1-0 advantage from the home game to Tolka Park and while most pundits felt Shels would be able to turn things around in the second leg, Reid's team produced a heroic performance at the Dublin venue to fashion an historic victory.

The first game at the Showgrounds was a tense affair with Rovers taking the initiative, thanks to a Neil Ogden goal in the 65th minute. The midfielder made the most of uncertainty in the Shels defence to direct a perfectly-placed shot low to the net for what turned out to be the decisive goal.

Rovers showed far greater conviction on the night and were good value for their slender lead.

In a brisk opening, Padraig Moran and Ogden went close to breaking the deadlock before Shels had a goal disallowed for offside after Derek Muir headed Pat Fenlon's free kick to the net.

Rovers almost broke the deadlock late in the first half when a brilliant move involving Moran and Marcus Hallows gave Sean Flannery the chance to dispatch a rising shot which was cleared off the line by the vigilant Declan Geoghegan.

Ogden finally got through for the all-important goal in the 65th minute and Rovers continued to press forward in the closing stages. Mark Hutchison was unlucky with a fiercely struck 25 yard drive which flew narrowly wide and Moran, Steve Birks and Flannery all went close to increasing Rovers advantage in the closing stages.

Rovers line-up in the first leg was: Nicky Broujos, Paul Morgan, Mark Hutchison, Nicky Reid, Peter Cobbesson, Steve Birks, Neil Ogden, Padraig Moran, Sean Flannery, Marcus Hallows, Aled Rowlands. Subs: Steve Jones for Hallows (31 mins), Conor O'Grady for Rowlands (68 mins)

Hallows and Rowlands were ruled out through injury for the second leg and with Shels recalling a number of first team regulars, it was feared that Sligo's narrow lead would not be enough.

But Rovers went to Tolka with a very positive attitude and while they defended in numbers, they also showed a refreshing willingness to push forward when the opportunity presented itself.

Right from start, Rovers played as if their lives depended on the outcome and Shels had no answer to their determination and bravery.

Although they had to defend with tremendous vigilance, they showed sufficient character to produce some passages of inventive football and contributed handsomely to a match which was worthy of the occasion.

With Shels in need of a goal to haul themselves back into contention and Rovers always dangerous on the counter-attack, the match developed into a classic end-to-end encounter.

Dessie Baker and Tony Sheridan were prominent as Shels made the early running but Rovers had their moments too and the Dubliners' 'keeper, Alan Gough, was obliged to race from his line to cut out a penetrating pass from Ogden in the 8th minute.

Shels were at panic stations again minutes later as Steve Jones, later to play for Crewe, Burnley and Northern Ireland, set off on an incisive run before forcing Gough to a diving save.

As play swung from end to end, Baker raced through the Rovers defence only to be denied by the alert Nicky Broujos who saved at the second attempt.

Shels stepped up the pace after the break and missed a glorious chance when Fitzgerald headed wide from six yards. Then Broujos produced a spectacular save to keep out a deceptive cross from the over-lapping Greg Costelloe.

The pressure was intense but Rovers heroic defence stood firm, eventually frustrating the home team.

Indeed, Rovers looked the more composed side in the closing stages and held on for a deserved draw which ensured the League Cup was on its way to the Showgrounds for the first time.

Rovers line-up in the second leg was as follows: Nicky Broujos, Paul Morgan, Peter Cobbesson, Steve Birks, Mark Hutchison, Nicky Reid, Padraig Moran, Lee Thew, Steve Jones, Neil Ogden, Sean Flannery. Subs: Conor O'Grady for Ogden (76 mins), Brian Southworth for Jones (89 mins)



Just days after winning the League Cup, Rovers established what was then a new club record, defeating Dundalk 3-0 at the Showgrounds to extend their unbeaten run to 16 matches. The scorers on that occasion were Donagh Oates, Mark Hutchison and Padraig Moran.

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