independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Coronation sweet for Sligo's heroes

Sligo RVS 0
Shamrock Rvs 2

IN Sligo, there is only one Rovers. They are the team who attract the devoted to a stadium located at the top of Church Hill and, last night, they came out in force to worship their heroes.

There was no suspense hanging over proceedings in the Showgrounds. Whatever happened, Sligo were getting their hands on a trophy at the end of it. The coronation was made sweeter by the identity of the team in the away dressing room.

Elsewhere in the country, League of Ireland fans have Shamrock in mind when they speak of Rovers coming to town. In this neck of the woods, however, the visitors are simply known as 'the Shams'.

"You'll be lynched if you call them anything else," joked Sligo's suspended Liverpudlian captain Danny Ventre, who watched this game from the press box before taking a central role in celebrations.

In 2012, the Dubliners have played in a manner that suits the derogatory nickname.

Unforgivable

It would be unwise to read too much into this result considering that Sligo have lost the intensity that brought them to the title in the course of a fortnight's celebrations, but the ability in the Hoops ranks that was demonstrated at times here makes their fourth place finish unforgivable.

They will miss the predatory instincts of Gary Twigg, who signed off with a goal in each half to collect the three points.

A year after their march to the Europa League group stages, the Tallaght men were the guests at somebody else's party, hoping for a miraculous turn of events that would propel them into third spot.

It didn't happen, and now, the pre-season favourites rely on a favour from St Patrick's Athletic in next Sunday's FAI Cup final if they are to participate in Europe next year.

Clearly, some of the fans who made the journey down the N4 hadn't taken it too well, with an ill-advised first half fireworks display requiring a brief stoppage and the intervention of the gardai. There were also worrying reports of disturbances in a nearby pub.

Brian Laws' side may have deflated the atmosphere in what could be the Englishman's final 90 minutes at the helm, but the full-time whistle and the arrival of the silverware quickly erased the game from memory.

Sligo followers had earlier reminded their rivals that the Leinster Senior Cup was the sum total of their efforts this term.

Sections of the Showgrounds were full an hour before kick-off, with the natives queueing up to witness a bit of a history.

This is only the third time that the Bit O'Red have been crowned champions, and a large number of the crowd weren't around for the last success back in 1977.

The achievements of the class of 1937 are an even more distant memory, although they were charted in a stunning souvenir programme packed with memories.

A range of pre-match ceremonies added to the nostalgia factor, with a nod to those no longer with us.

The most touching was a tribute to Johnny Chadda, an Indian-born fan who moved to Sligo, took the local club to his heart, and played a key part in their survival before his passing in 2008.

A flag bearing his name was unveiled before the game, carrying a heartfelt message. "Even if the wind stops to flow, even if the sea ceases to flow, even if the sun ceases to rise, the name of Sligo Rovers will shine."

Like every League of Ireland entity, the Bit O'Red have suffered dark days in the carousel of uncertainty that comes with the territory in this country.

Now their time has come, the challenge is to make sure it happens more frequently. The goodwill generated by this year's exploits has been supported by improvements to the ground and a response from the community.

They have to succeed where others have failed and build on the success.

On the eve of this match, Sligo defender Jason McGuinness and striker Mark Quigley had warned of similar mistakes, criticism borne from the club's reluctance to offer them new contracts.

It's entirely possible that both will come back to the Showgrounds next year in green and white hoops, although Quigley will need to forget a first-half tackle from Billy Dennehy that other referees might have punished with a red card.

Once today's open-top bus parade is out of the way, the Sligo board will seek to sit down with the disaffected and tie down their futures.

There have been plenty of distractions to deal with since their dramatic win over St Patrick's Athletic, and concentration lapses cost them in this encounter.

Twigg reacted quickest to open the scoring when his initial shot came off the crossbar, and he struck again early in the second half when young defender Martin Owens and 'keeper Gary Rogers got their wires crossed. It consigned Sligo to a first home league defeat of 2012, yet it will barely register as a footnote.

This has been a class year. Now to make it permanent.

SLIGO ROVERS -- Rogers, Henderson (Owens 56), Peers, McGuinness, Gaynor; Ndo, Cawley, Lynch; Millien (Dillon 66), Quigley (Buchanan 80), Cretaro.

SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Jansson, Sullivan, Oman, Gartland, Powell; Greene, McCormack, Brennan, McCabe, Dennehy, Twigg (Ebbe 86).

REF -- A Buttimer (Cork).

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