Hastie: European football in Sligo like no other
“Playing in Europe is something you always dream about as a kid and the anticipation of this experience was amazing. Everything about it brings the team together.
“The crowd believed in us and drove us on every time we played at The Showgrounds. It is difficult to describe how much the fans impacted your in-game approach. It inspired me.”
It is a different Sligo Rovers to the one Australian mdifielder Will Hastie encountered 20 years ago.
The place, the people, the players, the facilities, sometimes it is unrecognisable when you look back at different eras of the club.
But the feeling of European football can still engulf Sligo, and always will, and a big occasion awaits on Thursday night against FK Banga.
The 1994/1995 campaign was one that sticks with Hastie even two decades on.
Speaking to www.sligorovers.com today as he sent his best wishes to the current crops of Rovers stars, he said that the town, county and beyond can be the extra inspiration on Thursday night in The Showgrounds.
“The days leading up to game day in Sligo are always filled with anticipation. As a player, you feel it everywhere you go. From the old Punters Bar to Quinnsworth. I bet it is still that way and I hope it is too.
“The away leg against Floriana had given the town genuine belief that we'd get through and enter the first round proper of the tournament so you couldn't go anywhere without someone wishing you all the best for the night. Sligo's a special place like that.
“There is definitely a sense of magic in the lead up to a European game. The challenge that you might just go on a run and become the 'romantic' story that everyone will talk about for the competition that year. Every player that starts the journey, begins with that dream in their mind - could it be us this year?
“I can't describe what it is like walking down the race from the changing-rooms and stepping on the field for the warm up alone at The Showgrounds. The fans was just superb.
“They'll back you 100% and then follow up with their interest all week around the town. It inspired me in the moment and then enlightened me all week as we engaged with the fans in the general banter of football and Sligo town's love of the game.”
There is a different background to the modern day Rovers group with European football coming in the middle of, rather than the start, of the season like it did in '94.
Many challenges have come our way this year with the Setanta Sports Cup win the highlight of this testing campaign.
For Hastie and his team-mates, they were coming on a huge high after the treble. But he feels that the united approach of Sligo Rovers can mean form is irrelevant on a big night such as Thursday.
“I remember the whole time well. I was still buzzing from the experience of winning the FAI Cup and had just returned back from a break in Australia. Playing in Europe is something you always dream about as a kid and the anticipation of this experience was amazing. Everything about it brings the team together. The travel, eating together, training in different environments all fosters a different team bond then general training in Sligo.
“We surged into the match. I felt Floriana were surprised at the football we played that night.
“Padraig Moran and Johnny 'Sonny' Kenny gave us width and pace and we got two goals. Floriana came back as we tired in the heat late in the game but to leave Malta with two away goals gave us every chance back at the Showgrounds.
“Away goals gave you a small advantage but not much. Very tense, probably like it will be on Thursday. We still couldn't lose the game so subconsciously you do drop a bit too deep and over compensate on the defensive side of your game.
“When Jumbo's winner went in, The Shed erupted. I think we just felt like we were a young team, except for Marty & Dyksey, on a mission at that stage.
“The crowd believed in us and drove us on every time we played at The Showgrounds. It is difficult to describe how much the fans impacted your in game approach. It inspired me.
“It was special for me that we had got through because in the next round playing for Club Brugge at the time was another Australian named Paul Okon who was the Captain of the Under-20 Australian team I played in. I was only 22 at the time of the game.
“The challenge of playing on a midfielder like Franky Van der Elst, who I had watched play in World Cup football, was superb. He gave me a fair run around I must say.
“The game at The Showgrounds was a real festival. Willie McStay returned. Big Jackie Charlton there as well. It was as if the red carpet had been rolled out of The Shed!”
Hastie said he wishes the Bit o’ Red squad, and the entire club, his very best for Thursday and to find that magic for a second time in The Showgrounds.
He concluded: “I stay in touch with many old friends from the SRFC community on Facebook and Twitter. I am always looking on. All the best to the lads this week.
“The prize of getting through to the next round is massive so 'don't leave anything on the field' as they say.
“Believe in that dream you will all have at the start of the journey that you will be the Cinderalla story of the tournament. Costa Rica just did it in Brazil - why can't The Rovers?”
Sligo Rovers vs FK Banga, Thursday 10 July, Europa League first round second leg, 7pm. Tickets on sale Tuesday and Wednesday from 10am to 5pm in The Showgrounds. Adult price €25, children €10.