'It couldn't have been any worse'
Finn Harps 2 Sligo Rovers 0
"Arguably the worst performance of the season", is how Liam Buckley described Sligo Rovers' two-goal defeat to Finn Harps on Friday night.
Clearly upset by what his side offered in Donegal, the crestfallen Rovers boss cut a dejected shape as the result soaked in post -match.
Disappointed in himself as much as in his players, Buckley said he will take his share of criticism for a performance which resulted in altogether forgettable night for Rovers.
"It couldn't have been any worse than it was", he said.
"We were awful. I didn't see that performance coming. But I take responsibility for it because I put out the group we played and I set the shape.
"We need better drive and better dynamism. We just didn't turn up and it was arguably our worst performance of the season. We didn't create enough, didn't play well enough and kept giving the ball away.
"I do apologise (to the supporters). The performance was unacceptable from where we are at. I have no doubt the lads are bitterly disappointed because we've let three points go."
Buckley lamented what he felt was a missed opportunity. Harps had been beaten in each of their five previous top flight games, while victory would have seen Sligo keep pace with St Pat's in fifth.
"I keep saying this, but it's a tough league and if you don't play well in any match you will get turned over. That's what happened tonight."
Rovers were in decent form coming into the mid-season break previous to this game with just one defeat in ten.
With this in mind, Buckley was quick to swipe away any ideas that the two weeks off might have had an adverse effect.
"I won't blame that", he rebuked. "Look at Harps, they turned up OK. But we can't use the break as an excuse, no."
Rovers have benefited for Buckley's half-time team talks on several occasions this year, to re-emerge the better team in the second period.
But that didn't happen last week as they continued to struggle to create anything meaningful.
There were half chances for Kris Twardek and David Cawley, but Harps goalkeeper Mark McGinley was never really tested in the second 45. Nathan Boyle's second goal eleven minutes from time sealing Harps' win.
Assessing the second half, Buckley continued: "The first few minutes, I don't think we were looking too bad, then we were doing OK and then we've given a stupid goal
away. We were in possession and then we've given the ball away. That sucked the life out of us."
Buckley hinted that midfielder Jack Keaney may be on his way out of the Showgrounds shortly as he looks likely to take up a scholarship with UCD, with Liam Kerrigan also expected to follow suit.
Keaney was a late withdrawal from the starting eleven, with Dante Leverock deemed fit and ready after his heroics for Bermuda at the recent Gold Cup.
Briefly touching on Keaney's proposed move to the Students, Buckley said: "Discussions are ongoing. Jack has made a decision and we're just trying to work something through for him", he said.
The decision to drop the Donegal Town native cleared the way for Kyle Callan-McFadden to take his place at the bottom of a midfield diamond, Buckley explaining that McFadden's physicality suited the game plan.
"We had to try and juggle a few bits around because there's one or two still out", Buckley outlined.
"Dante played three games over there. He felt he was OK and I thought he did alright bearing in mind the travelling. I then had a choice to make between Jack and Kyle and felt Kyle was the better option as Harps are a fairly big outfit. I also thought Kyle would have done a reasonable job from set-plays."
The manager also explained that Cawley's withdrawal mid-way through the second half was purely precautionary. This, due to a calf strain the Mayo man picked up in training last week.
"We took a chance on him and we were conscious of that. If he goes and tweaks that, he'll miss the Shams game", he said.
With both Keaney and Kerrigan looking likely to depart, Buckley also confirmed he is actively pursuing leads in relation to adding quality to the squad.
"I am chasing a few", he said coyly. There are still 14 games to go so there's a lot of points to play for so we're looking at it from that point of view."
The former Pat's boss also had his say on the latest edition of the proposed all-island league, the bones of which were discussed for the first time last week.
Buckley is welcoming of the thoughts of such a set-up, but is realistic when considering the amount of hurdles that would need to be jumped.
"I think it would be great for football in this country", Buckley enthused.
"It has been mooted before, many times and there's a lot of top teams up in the north.
"It would make a very robust league and you'd have a robust first division. Whether that be achieved or not, we will have to wait and see because there's a few different bodies involved here."