35 year wait due to end
They waited thirty five years to win it and then had to wait another couple of weeks to lift it but tonight the League of Ireland Premier Division trophy will arrive in Sligo and be lifted at the Showgrounds for the first time in over three decades.
And, as if that wasn’t enough for the fans who have waited so long, in a piece of scheduling that will delight the Sligo fans, they get to lift it in front of the former champions, Shamrock Rovers.
Shamrock Rovers have ruled Irish football for the last two years and with their Europa League run last year, when they became the first Irish club to make it to the group stages of a major European competition, there were fears that the Hoops would dominate Irish football for years, maybe emulating the domestic dominance of clubs such as Lyon in France and Rosenborg in Norway.
However, to the disbelief of Rovers fans and the relief of many at other League of Ireland clubs, Rovers have endured a year far below any expectations they had at the start of the year.
A turbulent term in charge for Stephen Kenny, where there were rumours of squad unrest, and the late appointment of Brian Laws has left the champions of the last two years on the verge of a fourth placed finish.
Outside of European qualification and closer to the mid table melee than the league leaders. This was not how the Rovers dream of dominance was supposed to happen, tonight was supposed to be the night they lifted number three in a row in front of a Sligo team they had beaten, again.
Sligo, who started the season with manager Ian Barraclough installed in the job only a couple of days before kick off, have exceeded expectations. The loss of Paul Cook last winter and the seemingly impending increase in squad strength at Tallaght meant that most commentators felt Sligo had missed their chance to win a league title as they picked up two FAI cups in two years but found themselves off the required pace in the league.
There are a few factors that have made sure those predictions were left unfulfilled. The team spirit at Sligo has been excellent. Barraclough has done superb work in continuing where Cook left, by keeping the players happy as a team.
Players such as Mark Quigley and, the now injured, Danny North were a revelation this season as they found the net consistently. Barraclough continued the tactical approach embedded by Paul Cook, keeping the quick, attractive play that had served his side so well and this Sligo side seem not a reincarnation but a mere evolution from the Cook side of the past few years.
That consistency has served Sligo well and has been reflected in their performances, as they got their noses in front early on and stayed there for the duration, without any serious blips causing panic.
One key reason for Sligo’s triumph that must be mentioned is Mark Quigley. If he doesn’t win player of the year there could be an inquest demanded. Quigley has always had the skill, vision and eccentricity in his play to be a valuable asset to a title challenging side but he has also lacked the ability to carry a team, to lead from the front when faced with tough to navigate roadblocks.
When Danny North was injured many wondered if Quigley had what it took to shoulder the responsibility as the main goalscoring outlet. It turns out he did have it, in spades. Quigley found his finest form of the year after North’s injury and there would be few complaints if he was to add player of the year and goal of the season to his first league winner’s medal. He has been exceptional.
What might make all the sweeter for him, and the Sligo fans, would be another winning performance against Shamrock Rovers tonight.
Kick off at The Showgrounds is at 7.45