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'Extra edge' for O'Brien

AS THEY prepare to get back to proper football tomorrow after the longest winter break in the European game, all eyes are on St Patrick's Athletic this season as the club aim to repeat their feat of 1998-99 by winning back-to-back league titles.

And Saints defender Ger O'Brien insists the squad now in place at Richmond Park have the hunger needed to retain the title which they won in style last season.

Though they have played two cup games already this year, Pats have their first big test of the new season at Richmond Road tomorrow when they take on Sligo Rovers in the inaugural President's Cup, the domestic equivalent of the Charity Shield.

The game will have some added glamour with the guest list (president Michael D Higgins, Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane will all be there), and it's a chance for one of the clubs to make an early mark on the season by winning a trophy.

But for O'Brien, this season is all about proving that his side can be top dogs in the league again.

"It's all about hunger, it is very hard to win the league back-to-back," he says ahead of the meeting with Sligo.

"This is something I have spoken to Owen Heary about, as Owen has won seven league medals. Owen says that you know early in the new season which players are ready to go again and which players have just lost their hunger. Some players just don't have the appetite to try and win the league again once they have a medal, as it is very draining mentally to go and win a league.

"But I have seen what we have in the squad here and I feel we have that desire to go again," added O'Brien, looking to add the President's Cup to his own medal haul.


"Tomorrow is a great game for us. No matter who we were playing in this final it would be a big deal, but there's maybe an extra edge as Sligo were champions the year before us and they'd expect to be challenging this season," he says.

"We are taking every game seriously, we did that in our Leinster Senior Cup game against Dundalk and again in the Setanta Cup against Ballinamallard. It's just a pity that the game is not on TV, but it's still a big deal, it's our Charity Shield."

Sligo did land a trophy last season, the FAI Cup, but the fact they surrendered the title to Pats still hurts and the Showgrounds club are keen to lay down a marker for the season.

"We want to win every trophy possible and this one tomorrow is no different," says Sligo's club captain Gavin Peers, currently doing his rehab following surgery at the end of last season and aiming for a return to action by the mid-season break.

"We would love to win this cup tomorrow. It's a good idea to have this at last, the fact that the president is involved is good for the image of the league, but for the players it's a chance to win a trophy and a medal and I know our lads will do all they can to win this tomorrow."