Monday 22 January 2018

Sligo Rovers face exodus of title-winning players

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

AS the town gears up for a weekend of celebration, Sligo Rovers star Jason McGuinness has warned that it could be another 35 years before the club wins the League of Ireland title again due to their reluctance to tie down key players.

Sligo will lift the coveted trophy in front of a full house at the Showgrounds after tonight's meeting with Shamrock Rovers.

It is the third time that the Bit O'Red have been crowned the best team in the country, with Ian Baraclough's heroes following in the footsteps of the men of 1937 and 1977.

However, there is unhappiness in the victorious dressing room regarding the uncertainty of what comes next and it was vocalised yesterday by McGuinness and striker Mark Quigley, who were speaking after making the four-man shortlist for the PFAI/Tissot Player of the Year award.

Both are unhappy with Sligo's slow movement in terms of retaining players.

Quigley, who has offers from Shamrock Rovers and FC Dallas, will be signing on the dole on Monday morning, just over a fortnight after converting the league-winning spot-kick. "A bit of a comedown, but that's how it is in this country," he said.

The striker is, by his own admission, a homebird and has been commuting from Dublin on a daily basis throughout this season.

While the offer from an MLS franchise is attractive, he is unsure about moving that far away. He refused to mention tonight's opponents by name, but it's likely that he will be a Shamrock Rovers player next year.

Word of his disillusionment prompted a reaction from Sligo officials, who called the player in an attempt to set up discussions on Tuesday.

Chairman Dermot Kelly, who acknowledged that some players were unhappy, explained the club's stance: "Until we knew that we were going to be in the Champions League, we weren't in a position to put our best foot forward."

McGuinness, who has moved his family to Sligo, is aggrieved at the possible break-up of a title-winning side.

"I think the club have been a bit lax on getting players sorted out," said the central defender.

"I'm disappointed that they haven't come and nailed down a lot of the good players because everything is in gear to go now.

"Sligo have just recently built a brand new stand and the worst thing that could happen is if the players leave and then you've a brand new stand and nobody to sit in it.

"I'm sure the manager (Ian Baraclough, who is also on a one-year contract) didn't move over from England to settle for second best.

"You've got the likes of Mark, myself, Gary Rogers and a lot of other players out of contract after the final whistle against Shamrock Rovers.

"The players want to keep it together because there's Champions League football next year, but you have to put food on the table. You can only go with the best offer that's been put in front of you, and Sligo haven't really done that.

"My time in Sligo has been the best two seasons of my career and it would be a shame to walk away from that, but I've got a family to support and I've got to do what's right for them."

The fact that former Sligo supremo Paul Cook has landed a new role in England with wealthy Chesterfield has not gone unnoticed.


Indeed, the PFAI responded by tweeting that it could be timely for the elite out-of-work League of Ireland players.

While some clubs have moved to make signings for 2013, the union still reckon that 90pc will be unemployed in football terms once the season ends.

McGuinness finds it hard to fathom that the league winners could be affected, given the buzz in the football-mad Connacht town.

"They are such good fans here and 35 years is too long for a club like this. It would be a real shame if it was another 35 years before they put another challenge simply because the club didn't tie down their best players," he stressed.

"I don't think it would happen in any other league around the world, that the top players at the end of the season are freely able to talk to other clubs. You should be protecting these players and getting them to stay."

Kelly countered by arguing that the club was in no position to make a "properly informed" offer until they knew how much prize money they would be collecting.

The other two players on the PFAI shortlist have their own problems to deal with over the winter.

Shamrock Rovers midfielder Ronan Finn is committed to the club for 2013, but he isn't on a 52-week contract so will have to find another way to earn an income over the winter.

St Patrick's Athletic winger Sean O'Connor will open talks on his future after Sunday week's FAI Cup final, and the vast majority of his team-mates are in the same boat.

It's understood that Young Player of the Year nominee Chris Forrester has been approached by Shamrock Rovers, even though the Hoops have yet to identify their new boss.

Finn would like current director of football Brian Laws to stay on. As it stands, however, tonight's encounter will be his last in the dugout.

Unless the Dubliners can secure an unlikely third-placed finish -- they need to beat Sligo and hope St Pat's lose at home to Cork -- their European participation in 2013 is reliant on a Saints victory in the FAI Cup decider.

Sligo Rovers v Shamrock Rovers,

Live, RTE 2, 7.45

Irish Independent

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