THE NEW year is upon us and it won't be long until the start of the soccer season is upon us. There has been plenty of activity in the last few weeks on and off the field.
The fixtures were released and, like two years ago, Rovers travel to the Brandywell to face Derry in what should be a lively counter.
The fixtures just seem to be reversed every year recently. The champions of the country should play their first game at home in front of their home crowd in my opinion. We will have to wait a week to see the champions in the Showgrounds when Bray Wanderers come to the town.
We lost the services of Richard Brush as he returned to our bitter rivals Shamrock Rovers. I know he didn't feature frequently, but he would have pushed Gary Rogers in training and kept him on his toes. He was brilliant to have around the changing room, he was always positive and extremely funny. I think we may see him again in the Sligo Rovers colours at some point in the future
Pascal Millen re-signed on a one year contract increasing our squad numbers. This will be a punishing year with our involvement in so many competitions and all squad players will be needed. Pascal was mainly an impact player last year and hopefully he can produce more consistency in his performances. He has great ability to beat a player and can get supporters out of their seats. Pascal's awareness and defensive play will need to improve if he is to become a regular starter.
The announcement of Sligo Rovers being the recipients of the Sports Capital grant worth €295,000 was a major boost to the club. The refurbishment of the allweather facility and the building of a new grass pitch will enhance the club. The allweather pitch has been a hub of activity since its opening and to move with the times we need to upgrade the standard. I'm more excited personally about the introduction of a grass pitch in the Showgrounds as it will give players the chance to train in the ground. In my day, we spent many a day on the morning of training not sure where we were going to train, so this should now solve this problem.
It was great to see Rovers feature on the RTE Sports Awards when they were nominated for team of the year. We were never going to win it and well done to the eventual winners, All-Ireland GAA champions, Donegal. I don't think we will ever witness a League of Ireland team win this award which is sad really, considering Donegal maybe played 5 or 6 games, where as, we played nearly 40 games.
The team will be returning to pre-season in the next few days. I always had a feeling of excitement mixed with fear at this time and I'm sure the lads will feel something similar. I think it will be easier for them coming back as champions when they face into the hard training. Preseason has became a lot more scientific in recent years and the days of team members vomiting at the side of a pitch have nearly ended.
It's gone full circle, since I started with the introduction of many different aspects to improve each player individually. The lads will train 2 or 3 times daily during pre-season with a variety of sessions to bring them to the peak for the first game of the season. The majority of the team will be training vigourously over the last few weeks as you don't want to return with no training under your belt. I envy them and hope they all remain fit during the next 6 to 8 weeks.
Last season was one of the most dramatic and exciting in the club's history and with the new campaign fast approaching, everybody is looking forward to the big kick-off.
Many clubs have been working hard to strengthen their squads, so the race for the Airtricity Premier Division title will be more competitive than ever in 2013.
As Champions, Rovers will be the team everybody will want to beat and that will add to the pressure on Ian Baraclough and his squad.
Still, it's a great place to be. Kicking off a new season as Champions is something the club hasn't experienced since the 1977/'78 season, so it's going to be an exciting challenge.