Raffaele Cretaro made the 500th appearance of his long and illustrious career last Saturday against Longford Town.
Cretaro has been in the league for 16 consecutive seasons, 14 of which have been with the Bit o’Red.
That puts him at 441 appearances for Rovers and second on the club’s all-time list only behind Tony Fagan.
It all started on 3rd September in 2000 away to Monaghan United and he capped the debut with his first goal.
He was a regular fixture in the team over the next few years in the First Division becoming a popular figure for his versatility and work rate.
Success eventually came as part of the team to win promotion from the First Division in 2005 with the Tubbercurry tornado playing 36 times that season.
A year away in Galway followed before being brought back for the club for 2007.
2008 proved to be his best year so far as he scored six goals including a winner at home to Shamrock Rovers which put Rovers well on the way to European qualification for the first time in 13 years.
But 2009 was even better as Cretaro became one of the most prolific strikers in the country ending the year with 21 goals.
His exploits were particularly key to the run to the FAI Cup final that year. He scored three in the first round to get past Cork City and the only goal of the game to beat Derry City in the quarter-finals.
2010 was spent with Bohemians where he lifted the Setanta Sports Cup.
But after just a single season away he was back at The Showgrounds again for the next year.
A highly successful season with nine goals scored to help Rovers to a runners-up spot was capped in the FAI Cup final. In the deciding shoot-out Cretaro stepped up to score the penalty to retain the FAI Cup for the Bit o’Red for the first time ever.
2012 was even better with Raff scoring even more crucial goals in helpting Rovers to a first league title in 35 years. Most memorable was the two he scored on the way to securing the league title against St. Pat’s at The Showgrounds.
In 2013 another medal was added to his collection with the FAI Cup for the second time in his career. Again Cretaro was a key part of the success scoring the winning goal in the quarter-final against Derry City.
He also got to play further games in european competition and for the first time with Rovers he played in the UEFA Champions League against Molde.
2014 brought more firsts in the career of Cretaro as he helped the club win the Setanta Sports Cup for the first time and he also played a key role in Rovers advancing through europe by beating FK Banga and then getting a famous win over Rosenborg.
This year has seen him continue to play a key role for the club as he reached his 500th appearance.
Tributes have been paid to Cretaro by several big names who Cretaro has played with and for during his career:
“I think Raff has just signed back for Rovers from Galway United the year I signed so he was just back with the club but still he was seen as one of the senior players in the club. And as such he was one of the guys who you would go to, to get advice and he was always happy to help. I’m delighted for him to hear that he has made over 500 appearances for Sligo Rovers. I think he’s got great presence, he’s the kind of character you kind of know is the main man at a club but he doesn’t act like that. There is no ego about him even though he has great presence. During my time with Rovers he was nothing less than a top professional, he always looked after himself and went to the gym after training.
“To play over 500 games for a professional club you have to be fit and relatively injury free. It’s a credit to him and shows that he has looked after himself really well. I just delighted for him and I know that the whole of Sligo is delighted for him as well because he is just that type of lad. I remember in my last year with Rovers we finished 4th and qualified for Europe and one of the best things about Raff was that even though he is tiny he had a big jump on him. Any time you were in trouble you knew you could clip it up to him and he would get a flick on it. He was a real menace and was brought on more as a player when Paul Cook came in. He helped to make Raff one of the best players in the country and he has kept that consistency ever since.”
Everton’s Seamus Coleman
“When I first came to the club I done my research on the squad. I could see that Raff had spent many years at the club and was a very good servant as a local lad. It is great to see that he still has the enthusiasm and the athleticism to compete. He was able to get up and around the pitch and that is what you look for in a player so I took to him straight away.
"As a player he always wanted to learn and get better. He has continued to look to develop himself. He is able to play in various positions which is great to have for a manager especially when you are working with a small squad. He was willing to try his hand at any position and maybe that was detrimental to himself that he didn’t have one position but I always felt he was best up front as a striker.
“He was a quiet person in the dressing room but was always part of the group. He was someone I could trust and turn to to gauge how things were in the squad. You could ask him to do anything and he would go and do it. That type of enthusiasm rubbed off on the others so he was a leader in what he did. The two best memories I have of him are the two goals he scored in the game against Pat’s when we clinched the league. He was in the right place and showed great movement. We had spoken about it before and he popped up with two goals that I will never forget.”
Former Sligo Rovers manager Ian Baraclough
“I first knew of him from playing against him when I was at Galway and I knew him from his bright blonde hair! He is a small lad but he looks after himself well. That is shown by the fact that he is still playing now.
"He is a very good lad to have around the dressing room. He is a good laugh and has a great attitude. You can always count on him to give 100%. You just have to look at what he has achieved over the last few years winning medals and that speaks volumes about what he is like.”
Current team-mate Alan Keane
“People used to say that Conor O’Grady was Mr. Sligo I think Raff has taken that mantle off him. For me when I went to the club first Raff was a big help. I didn’t know before I joined and I chose to live in Tubbercurry so we used to travel in and out of Sligo for training and games and became good friends.
He is a very cheery character and a good laugh with a good sense of humour. When I was with Rovers he played right back/left wing/right wing/centre forward/midfield which meant he was a joy for any manager to have in their squad as he good do a job in a number of different positions.
“And no matter where he plays the quality of what he has to offer doesn’t change and that is a great attribute to have. To be playing for over 17 years and have made over 500 appearances is a great testimony to how well he looks after himself as a professional.
“He’s very fit and keeps himself in good shape. It’s a testimony to how popular he is that the whole of Tubbercurry had a trailer waiting for their prodigal son to arrive in 2011 when we won the FAI Cup!”
Ottawa Fury captain Richie Ryan
“During my time with Sligo Rovers he was such a good influence on and off the pitch. For a period during my tenure he was the best player in Ireland and you can’t pay a higher compliment to anybody than that.
“This resulted in him being highly sought by a number of clubs and also to him winning trophies and achieving success at the highest level in Ireland.
“Not only is he a fantastic player, he is also a fantastic lad. Any dressing with Raffaele Cretaro in it is a better one.
“His appetite for the game should be a great example for any young lad coming into football.”
Portsmouth manager Paul Cook
“Congrats Raff on your 500th appearance. It's no surprise to me you got there mate with the strength of character you have. I saw that from the very start when I signed. You must have had some bottle to wear them earrings and tint your hair. On serious note you were one of the lads I could count on, on and off the pitch.
Always there on team nights out having a laugh. You never shied away from anything even fellas twice as big as you. I admired how straight you was with people. I'll never forget the day we won the league. Your goals set us up that day mate and the fight we shown started with you. It was a pleasure to play alongside you and get to know you and your family. You’re a credit to them, Tubber and Sligo Rovers.”
Former team-mate Danny Ventre
“I remember when I first signed for Rovers in 2009 and he was at his hottest in terms of the football he was playing. I think he scored 20 odd goals for us that year and in the second half of the season he was near unplayable the way he used to play off Blinks and nearly always go onto score. Once when we were playing Shamrock Rovers he was through
“One on one and he missed and I remember how at half-time he said that if he got the chance again he knew he wouldn’t miss.
“Sure enough in the second half Blinks flicked it on and Raff stuck it between the legs of McManus. I don’t know how he knew that he would score again but he had that conviction that he would score if it happen again and it was the first time I have ever anything like that.
“He was so good and so clinical during that time. Also he is one of the best lads I have ever met, what a fellow he is, so full of life and always happy to help. More importantly he makes the best lasagne I have ever tasted! He’s a great fellow and I’m delighted for him. With the way he keeps in good shape he has many more years left in him and could get past 600 appearances and even catch up on Tony Fagan!”
Preston North End Striker Eoin Doyle
View a gallery from Cretaro's whole career below:
Raffaele Cretaro 500 games | Sligo Rovers Football Club