New young talent emerging at the Showgrounds
Our latest look at reasons to Back the Bit o'Red in 2015 is about the new generation of young, local talen that is emerging through the club's underage set-up.
Over the last year, Sligo Rovers have seen a number of young players make the step up to the senior team from the Under-19 set-up.
Since the establishment of the U19 league in 2011, Sligo Rovers were crowned champions of the Northern Division in 2012/2013 season.
Under the management of Gavin Dykes and Ciaran Kelly, some of the young talents from the North-West have moved up to the senior squad.
Westport native Ruairi Keating is a striker who played two seasons with the under-19s and was the top scorer in both. He continued his fine goalscoring form when he went on loan to Finn Harps to start the 2014 season. At Finn Park he netted six times in his 14 appearances. When he returned he was immediately involved making his debut off the bench at home to Cork City before starting the following week at UCD. He also played in both legs of the Europa League tie against Rosenborg. He became a regular in the senior squad towards the end of 2014, making 16 appearances and catching the eye of supporters.
“Hopefully next year I can get regularly playing. It’s a big change this year and there’s a lot of new faces in and a new manager. It’s all about hitting the ground running, getting things done in pre-season and that’s what I am looking forward to. So hopefully I can get in the team, score some goals and see how it goes from there.”
Another Mayo man, Gary Boylan, became a regular at right-back for Sligo Rovers towards the end of the 2014 season and can play anywhere across the back four. He first appeared in the EA Sports Cup tie with Derry City in May a couple of weeks after his 18th birthday. He returned to the first-team squad when he replaced the injured Alan Keane for the away game to Derry in early September. A string of excellent performances earned him his first professional contract with the Bit o'Red for the 2015 season.
"It means a lot to me that the club is showing such faith in me. It's not easy to get a contract at such a big club. I appreciate them being so good to me."
Sligo native Gary Armstrong is a forward was brought into the senior squad towards the end of the 2014 season after two season of impressive displays at under-19 level. Armstrong is the grandson of Sligo Rovers all-time leading goalscorer Johnny Armstrong. He was named Man of the Match in his first start for Rovers, a 4-0 win over UCD, a game in which he scored the second goal. He was again on target on the final day of the season against St. Pat’s with an impressive strike. He has recently signed a professional contract for next season.
“Hopefully next year I can challenge for a place in the first team. Owen coming in is great and he goes to the under-19 games and sees what we are doing. I will work hard in pre-season and hopefully can make the breakthrough and take my chance when it comes.”
Left-back Regan Donelon, originally from Manchester, was also brought into the senior squad in 2014 after just one year with the under-19s. His debut came along with Boylan in the EA Sports Cup game with Derry City and he made his first start in July against Limerick at the Showgrounds. He made nine senior appearances for the Bit o'Red over the course of the year. He was also drafted into the Republic of Ireland u19 squad for two friendlies against Sweden in October.
There is also several others in the under-19 squad who have been involved with the first team. Jake Dykes, son of Rovers legend Gavin, has been involved with the first-team squad during the past two seasons. The defender is currently enjoying a successful loan spell with Ballinamallard which ends in January. Liam Flatley from Mayo made his breakthrough early in the season and plays on the wing or up front. He appeared as a sub in the Setanta Cup game with Crusaders and marked his debut with a goal. He has been named on the bench a number of times since but it is his only appearance to date.
Midfielder Ryan McManus from Sligo has been an integral part of the under-19 set up for the past three years and made two substitute appearances for the first team at the end of 2014. Centre-back Ross Tahney from Collooney is the current captain of the under-19s and was an unused sub for several games last season.
Head of Youth Development Gavin Dykes says the young players are the future of the club, and to expect to see even more of these young talents progressing to senior squad in the near future.
“These lads are the future of the club. We started off three years ago hoping that our young players would eventually be graduating to the senior squad.
“We have smashing young players coming through. Not only are they getting notice by getting in the first team but a lot of them are getting international recognition now as well. I know Paul Doolin will call a few of them up to Ireland u18 and u19 squad as well. There's a huge amount of commitment from kids and players. There's a lot of work going on. It looks good for the future.
“I know from being a senior player myself that when young lads come through you're always wondering if they're good enough but in fairness the senior players have been excellent and the young lads have fitted in really well. They may be young but they're also senior players.
“Owen Heary is totally behind this and behind the young players. They're part of the senior squad now. They're very capable, and they're very hungry to succeed.”
With a number of these young players expected to feature heavily in Owen Heary's plans for the 2015 season, you could be watching the next Seamus Coleman in the Showgrounds come March.
Back the Bit o'Red in 2015
1. Family season tickets: http://www.sligorovers.com/news/14/dec/family-season-tickets-sale
2. Six exciting new singings for the new season: http://www.sligorovers.com/news/14/dec/back-bit-ored-2015
3. Great value available with season tickets: http://www.sligorovers.com/news/14/dec/great-value-our-season-tickets