Saturday 24 March 2018

Sligo's loss can be net gain for Trap

Eamonn Sweeney

Being a League of Ireland fan, watching a favourite player sign for a foreign club is a bit like being a parent seeing a kid off to college. You're delighted with their achievement but you know you're going to miss them.

So it was with conflicted heart I greeted the news that the Sligo Rovers pair of Richie Ryan and Eoin Doyle had signed for Dundee United and Hibernian respectively. The Scottish League may not be what it was but it still represents a step up from the League of Ireland, not least because of the greater opportunities it offers for a further upgrade to the English game.

Witness the fate of Conor Sammon, nobody's idea of the boy most likely to succeed when he was averaging a goal every five games in the League of Ireland and not making the first team at Derry City. A move to Kilmarnock and all of a sudden he's turning out for Wigan Athletic in the Premier League.

I feel a tinge of regret at the departure of Ryan and Doyle but I'm also excited about what the future may hold for them. You'd have to be a ferocious churl not to wish Ryan in particular the very best. He arrived at The Showgrounds as a player with a great future behind him, a guy who'd been on the verge of making it at Sunderland but then dropped down the divisions and out of the pro game in England.

During his first two seasons he looked overweight, struggled with injuries and was the favourite scapegoat for a section of the home support. But over the past two years a considerably slimmed down Richie Ryan has been by some distance the finest player in domestic soccer, something recognised last year when he won the League of Ireland's Player of the Year award.

Rovers have played the most attractive football in the league largely because of Ryan's influence. He was the most aesthetically pleasing player I've ever seen in domestic soccer, a midfield general who always tried to pick the correct pass and usually did so. They are in for a treat at Tannadice Park.

Eoin Doyle, who over the past year accomplished a metamorphosis from willing winger to goal machine centre-forward, is another player who has performed a remarkable feat of personal reinvention.

Like the Bohs fans who'll be watching how Pat Fenlon goes at Hibernian and the Shams supporters who'll be keeping an eye on Northern Ireland under Michael O'Neill, I'll have some extra results to watch out for from now on. And I'll be fantasising about Eoin and Richie lining out for Trapattoni's Ireland in the 2014 World Cup finals.

Well, why not? Anything can happen if you take your big chance. Just ask Seamus Coleman and Keith Fahey who went out as hopefuls and came back as stars.

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