Sunday 24 March 2019

Buckley: Give me time and I will win trophies with Sligo

Liam Buckley: ‘I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge of getting Sligo back on the map’. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Buckley: ‘I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge of getting Sligo back on the map’. Photo: Sportsfile

Seán Ryan

It's been a tough start in the north west for Sligo Rovers boss Liam Buckley - two home defeats and the only points earned so far coming on the road.

If he's feeling any pressure, though, Buckley isn't showing it - exactly what you would expect for a man of his experience in the league. He has only signed a one-year contract with Sligo, but you wonder if he's thinking long-term?

"I'd like to be," he says, "but it depends. They offered me a two-year contract and I said I'd take it for a year. I know about the passion up here - the time they beat Pat's here for the League, the atmosphere was exceptional. So if they get a feel for me and I get a feel for them and we're both happy, fine.

"We've had two defeats but we will get better; there is definite improvement in the group, but we need to get everyone fit. I'm thoroughly enjoying the challenge of getting Sligo back on the map - and the players too.

"We don't have a budget to match the top clubs, and trying to attract players to the club is hard, although when they get here they don't have a problem. My ambition is to get Sligo back to competing at the top end of the table. If you make Europe that's worth €230,000, and if you get through a round, you get the same again, and that does help for the following year. So if Sligo are to progress, we have to get a squad that's good enough."

On that count, Buckley has the pedigree to make this happen. After a successful playing career, which saw him win international caps and sample top-class football in Belgium and Spain, he first showed promise as a manager with Athlone Town, before making the breakthrough to major honours with Sporting Fingal in 2009 - at the expense of Sligo, a result he says he has been apologising for ever since he came to the Showgrounds.

Winning the Cup and finishing third in the League meant Fingal played in Europe twice in their three-year League history. "Not bad for a start-up," as Buckley puts it.

For the last seven years he was in charge of St Patrick's Athletic, leading them to League and Cup success. "In my first year I kept five players and let 15 go, but in my seven years I didn't buy a single player. We were successful in the first three years, in the other four years not so.

"This year I've let a few go and brought in three from the US, John Dunleavy from Cork and Ronan Murray from Dundalk. We got some in late, only two or three weeks ago, which means (Daryl) Fordyce and (Lewis) Banks haven't had a full pre-season, so it's all a little hit and miss at the moment."

On the perception that Sligo, like almost two-thirds of the teams in the Premier Division, have become nurseries for the top two or three, he says: "I understand my football business. And if they are offered more money players will go. So football clubs can only develop if they back the manager and build a team around their best players. You need to look after the ones you have and plan ahead, discussing with the players right through the year to protect our biggest assets. Through my time here, we'll manage contracts and make players feel they want to stay with Sligo."

That will be good news for the supporters, who have seen their best players migrate largely to Cork City in the past few years. Four ex-Sligo players helped Cork complete the double two years ago, and full-back Gary Boylan headed south in the close season. Buckley admits he would have liked Boylan to stay, but the player had already made up his mind by the time he took over.

Dublin managers have not always been a success when they moved outside the Pale, but there have been notable successes like Eoin Hand in Limerick, Damien Richardson in Cork and, of course, Stephen Kenny when he went to Derry. They all embedded themselves in those communities. Buckley, who has been a trail-breaker as a player, moving from the League of Ireland to the Continent, and as a manager, making Sporting Fingal a success from scratch, won't be found wanting in his latest challenge.

"It's the first time I've moved away from my family - the children are grown up enough. When we were away before, Orlaith and I were on our own. We want to make it work, and it could go on forever if we are successful. I'm very ambitious to make the gates bigger and to have success on the pitch so I'm hoping the fans will support us in numbers to give us time to produce something here. We've got a lot of really good players here individually, and if we can get them to play like that as a team we'll win things."

Buckley's thinking on tactics is heavily influenced by Urbain Haesaert, the manager he played for at Belgian club Waregem. "He had us playing 3-5-2 and it was the first time I realised that we played by design more than by chance. All the players had a job spec for their positions and each had something to offer."

Buckley's preference is for a flexible 4-3-3 system, and he wants all Sligo's teams from under-13 up to play in this way and come through to the first team in time. "It is a long-term policy, and I would like to see it through."

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