Player of Year Ryan credits Cook with restoring love for football
OVER the winter Richie Ryan may have been dreaming of a move abroad, but tonight at the Showgrounds his mind will be fully focused on the first of many significant battles this year with Shamrock Rovers.
During the off season, Sligo Rovers' PFAI Player of the Year made no secret of his desire to return to England and prove himself. But the right opportunity failed to materialise.
There were also offers at home, with tonight's opponents keen on securing his services. But Ryan stayed loyal to Sligo, and is now intent on improving on last year's cup double campaign.
Now, the challenge is to wrest the league title from the Hoops.
Ryan is happy at Sligo, where manager Paul Cook has restored his passion for football. The Tipperary man made his Premier League debut at 18 with Sunder-land, but fell by the wayside.
Being linked with a move to England is something Ryan wouldn't have imagined when he returned home, via a stint at Royal Antwerp, in 2008.
"I didn't think I would, because the last few years I had at Boston United, I lost the hunger for football," he explained. "It wasn't a passing game, it was route one and not the way I want to play.
"Paul Cook wants us to get the ball down and pass. I just enjoyed playing games and then last season I just had a good one and people started noticing.
"I'd like to prove that I can make it. You do want to play at a higher standard in the Premier League or the Championship. But I think we proved last year that there probably wouldn't be too much of a difference to the League One and Two levels to over here. That wouldn't interest me.
"Cooky said to me, 'the only way you can better yourself this season is to win Player of the Year again'. That's what I'm aiming for."
Meanwhile, Hoops boss Michael O'Neill is confident that his class of 2011 have progressed over the winter. "We have a slightly different squad from last year, but we're still expecting a tough challenge," he said.
SlIgo Rvs v Shamrock Rvs
League form: Sligo Rovers: W, Shamrock Rovers: W
Betting: Sligo 8/5 Shamrock Rovers 8/5 Draw 11/5
Referee: P Tuite (Dublin)
Team news: Paul Cook has a clean bill of health, while the visitors are without the suspended Stephen O'Donnell and have a doubt over defender Craig Sives.
Talking point: A clash of the teams that are expected to fight it out for the title. They last met in November's FAI Cup final, when Sligo won on penalties. The Dubliners have added a host of signings; this is an early chance to see how both camps have matured.