Stevens: Bit o' Red ready for big challenges

Sligo Rovers assistant manager Gary Stevens has fond memories of the date of Friday’s fixture with Dundalk in Oriel Park; one of the highlights of his playing career.
The former England international won the UEFA Cup with Tottenham Hotspur on 23rd May 1984, scoring a penalty in the shoot-out win over Anderlecht. 
While the majority of the Spurs squad of that generation will gather in London on Friday for the 30th anniversary, Stevens will assist manager Ian Baraclough in preparation for a key league game for the Bit o‘ Red.
Rovers have put together a run of eight league matches unbeaten ahead of the clash in Louth and have also secured the Setanta Sports Cup in recovering from a slow start to the league campaign. 
He feels Rovers are in a good place going into the meeting with the leaders of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division. 
He said: “Winning games develops confidence. The group are in a good condition both mentally and physically, we take that into some big challenges ahead. 
“It is a long season. We have to be pleased with how we have turned things around in the last number of games. I didn’t think we were playing that badly but we were coming out on the end of 1-0 defeats.
“We would prefer to be closer to the teams at the top of the table but, one way of looking at it, is the matches coming up are our opportunity to do so. We will be ready for these games and are quietly confident going forward.”
Stevens has been part of a new programme in the community this season that has seen the management and players visit each Sligo-Leitrim Youth League club for a training session, and in-turn their players provide the ball boys/girls for the following league fixture for the Bit o’ Red, as well as teams for a five-a-side match on The Showgrounds surface at half-time.
He said he has enjoyed each visit immensely and they will be of great benefit to the clubs, youth players, coaches, the Sligo Rovers players and for the future of the football club.  
The 52-year-old has plenty of experience in working with young players from his time on the coaching staff at Charlton Athletic and he has been pleased with the results so far in Sligo.
“It has been terrific. Ian and I have been at just about every session so far, almost every one of the players have been part of it and it’s very much win-win all around.  
“We see the enthusiasm of young players, the coaches watch on and try to take knowledge from the coaching session as well. It has just been enjoyable for all involved.  
“It links youngsters to the football club. Over a number of years Charlton Athletic built one of the most dedicated Football in the Community schemes in England and it brought a long-term benefit. 
“The visits to the clubs is starting to pay off with Sligo Rovers already as we have seen in the rise in attendances in The Showgrounds and in a number of years the youngsters will have grown up with an affinity to the football club. 
“It has been brilliant for everyone involved and it is important it continues.”
Thirty years on from the triumph in the UEFA Cup, Tottenham are marking the occasion with an anniversary banquet in London.
Friday’s fixture will take priority for the former England international three decades on from the historic win for Spurs. 
“Yes there are some great memories. The vast majority of the winning squad will be in London to mark the occasion. I would have loved to attend but unfortunately it clashes with the game. 
“I spoke to Ossie Ardiles yesterday and asked him to pass on my good wishes and explain why I can‘t be there. If there is one thing I can’t believe, it’s that it’s 30 years ago now!

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