Cretaro out to make dreams a reality
During the past decade, as various Sligo Rovers managers schemed, Rafael Cretaro always dreamed.
Even when the Bit O'Red were scrambling around in the First Division, with survival rather than silverware occupying most western minds, Cretaro was a firm believer. There was something about Sligo for him -- the potential was there, it was just a matter of nurturing it.
"Without a doubt I believed that days like now would come when we would be in contention for major honours," he said.
"There has always been talented players at the club, but in the last few years things have come together and it is great for Sligo Rovers because there is a great tradition here."
That is the case, and Cretaro reckons his most recent managers, Paul Cook and current boss Ian Baraclough, deserve credit for turning Sligo into contenders again.
"I think if you are to trace why things have improved you'd have to say the way Paul Cook operated at the start of his tenure with a small enough budget was immense," he said. "Good young players like Richie Ryan and Eoin Doyle, to name a few, came to the club and we began to get some success. In 2010, when I was with Bohs, Sligo won the cup and we won it again last year.
"It is true when people remark that success brings confidence. That has undoubtedly been the case with us. The gaffer now, Ian Baraclough, has kept things going. He is demanding in training and I think that has helped us this year."
Lately, conversations have been sprinkled with title talk as a 35-year search for the championship could be terminated.
Victory today against St Patrick's Athletic would seal the deal and the hype machine in the north west is in overdrive, according to Cretaro.
"It is hard to miss it really at the moment," he said. "After training most days we go into town for lunch, we see and meet people. The reality is that if we win our next game we win the league, so it is hard to get away from it.
"Everywhere people want to talk about the matches. Even in Tubbercurry, where I live, there are people talking, flags are out, and there is hype.
"In one way it is great, of course it is, but I am old enough and wise enough to realise it is just another game.
"In football you just want to get the three points and get your job done. We know what we have to do."
Traditionally Sligo were viewed as a club who rolled from season to season, but that is no longer true. Strategic plans are being made, players are being tied to decent long-term deals.
Sligo's eclectic collection of footballers features former Cameroon international Joseph Ndo, hardened domestic performers like Gary Rogers, Jason McGuinness, Danny Ventre and Mark Quigley and a few, such as Seamus Conneely, returning from the game cross-channel desperately trying to prove themselves.
Cretaro has been part of good, bad and indifferent Bit O'Red teams, but there is a feeling that something solid is being constructed.
"For the last few years Paul Cook and Ian Baraclough have been able to keep the bulk of the squad at the club and that is critical," he said.
"It is good now that young lads are signing for the club and they are talented players.
"They know that they will get a chance with Rovers and I think, in the long term, we can continue to be a serious club.
"Before, lads might join in the transfer window until the end of the year and then go, but now I think more and more are staying.
"Even off the pitch the crowds have improved. I always think people in Sligo were interested, but now they see a good team winning matches and trophies so they are bound to respond. We just want to go out to finish the job for them at the Showgrounds."
Sligo Rovers v St Patrick's Athletic,
Live, RTE 2, 3.45