Wednesday 24 January 2018

Billy masterminded historic march to glory

LOOKING back on it now, Billy Sinclair, the man who guided Sligo Rovers to the League of Ireland Championship in 1977, still struggles to appreciate the scale of the achievement.

With a small squad, which was one of the youngest in the League, primitive training facilities and virtually no money, Rovers defied all the odds to win the League for the first time in 40 years.

"When you think of what we had to work with, it really was an incredible effort," explains Sinclair.

"I have so much respect for the players in that squad. They had so much to put up with and they were only young lads. But they gave it everything they had and were a credit to the club and the town."

Sinclair points out that Sligo was a very different town back then and it was a real culture shock for young players who had come up through the professional ranks in England.

"They were virtually living in a goldfish bowl in Sligo," he says. "It was difficult for them but they never complained. I was a hard task master and I really pushed them as hard as I possibly could. To be honest, I don't know how they put up with me. But they were great lads and they shared my ambition to bring the League title to Sligo."

Training frequently consisted of fivea-side games in an old industrial shed at the Showgrounds or torturous runs up the sand dunes at Rosses Point or Strandhill. On a few occasions, Sinclair even took the players on runs up the slopes of Benbulben.

"I suppose I knocked lumps out of them but it was a challenge to keep them motivated and interested and that was my way of doing it. We had a mixture of full-timers and part-timers in the squad but we were the fittest team in the League. We would train twice a day, in the mornings with the fulltimers and in the evenings with the part-timers. Looking back on it now, it was a really tough regime but it paid off in the end," says Sinclair.

The race for the title went down to the very last day of the season with a crunch showdown against old rivals, Shamrock Rovers, at the Showgrounds.

"I kept the players calm and relaxed in the build-up to the game but I must admit I found the tension on the day very hard to take myself," recalls Sinclair.

"I was so exhausted that I didn't even go out that night to join in the celebrations. The town was going crazy after Rovers winning the League for the first time in 40 years and I was at home babysitting my young son, Jonathan."

Sinclair, who these days works as a coach to unemployed youngsters in Belfast, has kept in touch with Rovers' fortunes over the years and is delighted that their long wait for a League title has finally come to an end.

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