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Amond on target for last laugh

SOME PEOPLE sniggered when Pádraig Amond said at the start of this season that he would finish the 2010 campaign as the Premier Division' top scorer.

After all, the new signing for Sligo Rovers had scored just four goals for Shamrock Rovers last season and it was more than 40 years since a player from his new club had won the Golden Boot award -- Johnny Brooks a joint winner with Sligo way back in 1967.

But with 10 games left in their season, no one is laughing at Amond or his team now as the Bit O'Red have turned out to be a bit of alright. So Paul Cook's bright young side are coming to Dublin for tonight's league game with St Patrick's Athletic high on confidence thanks to a run of five straight wins which has made them title contenders and also put them into the League Cup final, the most recent victory a 2-1 win over Shamrock Rovers in the semi-final last Tuesday.

There are lots of reasons for their success: Paul Cook's clever management and his eye for a bargain on the transfer market; the superb form of under-rated but highly valuable players like midfielder Richie Ryan; and the undoubted class of international players Joseph Ndo (Cameroon) and Romo Boco (Benin).

And there are the goals from the boot and head of Carlow lad Amond, who has so far claimed 17 league goals with another five in the cup competitions, putting him well ahead of contenders like Gary Twigg (11) and Paddy Madden (9).

"At the start of the season here at Sligo, I said that I wanted to go for the Golden Boot award and finish as top scorer, but a few people laughed at me," says Amond as Sligo prepare to battle with St Pats for the sixth time this season.

"It was something I really wanted to aim for and I didn't care what people said or thought. You look at the great strikers who have won it in the last few years like Jason Byrne and Glen Crowe, and I wanted to try and win it as well, for the club as well as for myself.

"I know it's still early in the season, we have 10 games left and you could see someone like Gary Twigg or Jason Byrne go on a scoring run, but I have my targets and I want to achieve them," added the U21 cap, who was already promising to exceed expectations before a ball was kicked.

"When Paul Cook signed me, he said he wanted 20 goals from me this season but I told him no, I would get more than that, so that's still my aim, to get past 20. And if we keep up this run we're on I have a good chance of doing that.

"My confidence was low when I joined the club from Shamrock Rovers. Last season didn't go well for me as I didn't play as many games as I'd have liked. I didn't score many goals and it wasn't a great time for me, but the move to Sligo has been brilliant. I'm really enjoying my football now.

"I've played a lot of games now. I have played in every game in the league and Paul Cook says he'd like to rest me to give me a break, but when the goals are flying in like that he can't afford to leave me out," says Amond, who was Sligo's two-goal hero in the win over Shamrock Rovers on Tuesday. And the U21 international says that his present spell of form has only reignited his desire to catch the eye and play at a higher level abroad.

"Since I was a kid I had two main ambitions, to play professionally and to play for Ireland. And I would love the chance to play abroad if it came up and the move was right," he says.

"The standard here at home is very good and at Sligo I have really benefited from playing alongside someone like Joseph Ndo, who has played in the World Cup finals. I love playing for Sligo and in the league here at home but I think you need to test yourself all the time and if the offer came up to go abroad I would strongly consider it.


"I want to play for my country too. I don't know if a senior cap is too high to aim but I have played for the U21s. Hopefully I can pick up U23 and B caps at some stage and see where that takes me.

"I am still eligible for the U21s but I didn't make the squad for the game against Estonia two weeks ago. Some people at the club found it strange that I didn't make the squad, but hopefully I will get my chance," added Amond, capped four times at U21 level by Don Givens.

Sligo's run of form is the stuff of dreams for Rovers supporters who badly needed a pick-me-up after last season's FAI Cup final defeat by Sporting Fingal. Paul Cook's side have won their last five games in a row, won seven of the last eight and in a run going back to last June, have been beaten just twice in 15 games.

Last season ended badly for Sligo with that FAI Cup decider loss to Fingal, and the new season didn't see any lifting of the gloom as Sligo began the 2010 campaign more like relegation candidates than title contenders.

Three wins from the first 14 league games was an awful return and it was only the more inferior record of Bray and Drogheda which kept Sligo out of the bottom two at times.

But a revival took place in mid-season and Amond believes that a win over tonight's opponents was the game that kick-started their season.

"Home to Pats in the League Cup in June, they had beaten us twice in the Setanta Cup and beaten us well in one of the games, 4-1 from what I remember," says Amond.

"But we really lifted our game for the League Cup match with Pats, beat them 4-1 and we haven't looked back since.

"So tonight is a massive game for us. If we win we could go second in the table, and considering where we were back in March and April that is some achievement."

Pats welcome Sligo tonight hoping to pick up bruised bodies and egos after last week's defeat by bottom side Bray Wanderers.

"Bray was a disappointing result but we've moved on and put last week's game behind us," says Saints boss Pete Mahon.

"We've been in the top two for most of the season, we're still in second, but we know we'll really have to be up for this one.

"We've played Sligo four or five times already this season so the players and management know each other pretty well at this stage.

"It's all set up for a great game. There was a great atmosphere at the Showgrounds on Tuesday and hopefully we can match that tonight."