It’s two weeks since John Russell was appointed manager of Sligo Rovers, and now he’s itching for a game as he takes charge of a competitive game for the first time officially as manager as the Bit O’Red host Finn Harps at The Showgrounds this Saturday evening.
Russell was appointed manager during the mid-season break following the departure of Liam Buckley, and with games postponed last weekend due to international call-ups, it means Russell’s had to wait an extra week for a game.
He did take his side to Cork for a friendly on Saturday (it ended 1-1 with Max Mata getting on the scoresheet), but now that the Finn Harps encounter is mere days away, the Galway native is eager to get going.
“I’m dying for a game and so are the players but you have to look at it from a positive, it’s given us time to work on the training ground, put some of our ideas across to the players,” the former Rovers midfielder told The Sligo Champion.
“We had our friendly against Cork the last day so we’ve kept ticking over.
“The players are in a good place so that allowed us to have another week leading into the Finn Harps game. It’s been good from a preparation point of view.”
As a player, Russell was renowned for his hard work, professionalism and commitment. He’ll undoubtedly be the same in his role as manager, and he has spoken previously about the demands he will place on his players and staff.
Even with the mid-season break, and the subsequent second week off that came about from the postponement of the Dundalk game, Rovers players had just the five days off, before coming back in to prepare.
“They had five days off so when we finished on the Friday after UCD they had five days off and we were back in on the Thursday so they’ve worked really hard since.
“We’ve put a lot of stuff from the training ground into practice. Hopefully we’ll start seeing a lot of that work in the next few games.”
As Russell alluded to, that extra week has brought about some positives too.
He knows what he wants, and he has plans in place, and the extra week without a competitive game gave him the chance to communicate that with his players and his staff.
The 37-year-old isn’t just planning for the here and now, his plans go much further than that.
“I want to bring a real professionalism to the whole club, not just the team.
“It’s (the break) given me a chance to put structures in place, I have my own ideas of how I want the club to move going forward.
“That’s been a good thing with the break, to sit down with the staff, sit down with the players and explain the vision and way I want things going forward and how I want it all structured.
“I do think that we’ll get stronger as the season goes on and I’ll hope for a good second half of the season and over the next few matches and leading into Europe the group start showing some of the things we’ve been working on.”
Russell was assistant manager to Liam Buckley since the former St Patrick’s Athletic manager took over in 2019, having already had two spells as a player with Rovers.
Upon Buckley’s departure, Russell took charge as interim with Ryan Casey and Leo Tierney assisting him.
The Bit O’Red recorded a win over Derry City at The Showgrounds followed by a draw against UCD in Belfield under their reign before the season took a break.
Both Casey and Tierney will continue on as coaches with Russell, but he’s also added to his staff since taking over.
“One of the big ones straight away was we brought in Performance Analyst Chris Jenkins who has joined the staff.
“Chris will come in and oversee our GPS system and data analysis.
“Any of our games, he’ll be able to watch them and give us some clips and hopefully the staff, myself, Ryan Casey, Leo Tierney, we’ll work on that and look at the stuff, what we’re doing in training and matches.
“But we have that support in the background and we can get live data and live feedback on what we’re doing in the games.”
What’s clear is that Russell isn’t daunted by the role as manager of Sligo Rovers.
He knows it’s a huge challenge, and he knows it’s a job that comes with pressure, but he’s more than willing to face it all head on.
“It’s been a quick change alright jumping from assistant to manager.
“I’ve been preparing and planning for this for a long time - I knew there would be a stage where I would become a manager, whether that was at Sligo or another club.
“I have ideas and I have a vision for where I want to take the team and the club.
“I’m getting that chance and that opportunity now to put that into practice.
“The structures and foundations that I’m going to lay now, I’m hoping to reap the benefits and rewards going forward.”
There’s also the fact that the club has shown faith in him as manager.
There were other applicants for the role, there were plenty of others interested.
But the club put their faith in Russell as manager, and that’s something that means a lot.
“They’ve shown great faith. They’ve promoted someone from within the club, the easy decision would have been to go with someone from the outside.
“The club has had a history of going to the UK and going for foreign managers.
“For them to see me and they know me, they’ve seen my work the last few years.
“They’ve given me the opportunity, it’s brilliant and it’s one that I’m relishing. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.”
Sligo Rovers face Finn Harps this Saturday at The Showgrounds at 7.45pm.
Harps are currently second bottom of the table and are desperate for form, and as is always the case, you never quite know what to expect from Harps when they come to town.
Russell and his players most certainly will not be taking this challenge lightly.