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'It's a big statement for us as a club' - John Russell hails Sligo heroes after European triumph


David Cawley of Sligo and manager John Russell celebrate. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

David Cawley of Sligo and manager John Russell celebrate. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

David Cawley of Sligo and manager John Russell celebrate. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Sligo Rovers boss John Russell says that his side's smooth progression to the third round of the Europa Conference League is a big statement from both his club and the League of Ireland.

Russell was overjoyed with his side's display in knocking Scottish top flight side Motherwell out 3-0 on aggregate, admitting that disparaging descriptions of his team in the Scottish press functioned as 'ammunition.'

However, the fact that local thoughts quickly turned to whether Rovers could stage their third-round tie with Norway's Viking in Sligo highlighted the road the game here has to travel.

The Bit'O'Red have not given up hope but have a serious job on their hands to bring The Showgrounds capacity from just short of 4,000 to across the 4,300 mark.

With time against them, they may have to move the fixture to Dublin.

"It's a big statement for us as a club but also for the League of Ireland that we stood up and went through - and went through comfortably in the end," said Russell.

"The product is there and it has been for a number of years, the quality of player is in the league.

"We are doing our best at the moment but our hands are tied with finances, the way the league is being run, so it is hard to invest and improve stadiums quickly.

"You look at the moment with Bohs and Shels, I can name so many clubs. We need investment. We need government funding.

"It's a battle and this is what happens. We are working with the resources we have," continued Russell, who knows the €850,000 accrued from this run means the world.

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"This club is run by the fans, the committee, the amount of work they are trying to do, they are trying to raise money to build a new stadium here and a training ground so moments like this are going to help off the pitch.

"On the pitch, the players, we've put the challenge to them to make history tonight to get through, we've got really talented players and this is the stage for them.

"There's no TV deal in our league, prizemoney is pretty small so these moments when you get a good draw and a team you feel you have a chance, you've got to capitalise and we did it."

Russell was thrilled with his side's overall performance against Motherwell after they limped past Welsh outfit in the previous round, with goalkeeper Ed McGinty - who was subsequently sold to Oxford - saving the day in a penalty shootout.

By contrast, new number one Luke McNicholas had little to do on Thursday night bar command his area well from set pieces.

"It was a strange feeling for me in the second game against Bala, everyone was celebrating in the dressing room afterwards and it was brilliant to get through but I was feeling low because I felt we underperformed," said Russell.

"We have a style of play that we are working on and when you have big crowds coming to games, you want to put on a show. We felt that we let ourselves down but we got through."

"We've made history tonight, the first Sligo Rovers team in history to get to third round of European competition so it's a huge deal. I felt our discipline and shape was really good, similar to the away leg. It's really pleasing."

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