Buckley discusses ‘excitement’ at upcoming season

Sligo Rovers manager Liam Buckley says he cannot remember a time when he was more excited by his involvement in football ahead of the new SSE Airtricity League season.

This is his 25th year in management after a playing career that brought him to Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain as well as the League of Ireland.  

He previously managed St Patrick’s Athletic (twice), Sporting Fingal, Shamrock Rovers and Athlone Town (twice).  He says each experience with each club was different but what strikes him about Sligo Rovers is the unique relationship between the club and the community.

“I really admired what I saw during the recent club AGM.  It brought home to me the commitment made to help the club survive and develop.  The extra work during the pandemic was amazing. I was sorry afterwards that all of our playing staff weren’t across the Zoom calling during the AGM.”

This year, with rising costs and spending, Buckley has been supported with, as reported at the AGM, an increase in budget. 

“I’m always conscious of what it takes to keep Sligo Rovers going – the voluntary work, fund-raising and careful use of resources.  It’s a community-owned club and I try to spend the money like it is my own.”  

In the close-season, Rovers were linked with a number of players before adding to the squad. He said that in some cases offers made weren’t enough to get a deal done. In other instances, he wasn’t prepared to meet terms desired because he felt it would not be in the best interests of the club.

This week the club announced three new arrivals, Dutch-born, New Zealand defender, Nando Pijnaker, Canadian-born striker, Jordan Hamilton and New Zealand striker, Max Mata.    Buckley says “they are all in their 20’s and like our other new signings, Will Fitzgerald, Karl O’Sullivan, Paddy Kirk and Aidan Keena, they are ambitious.

“They want to develop and that’s important.”

The Rovers boss hopes this year’s squad will be an improvement on last season.  “We try to improve, year on year.  We re-signed players who did well last year. They showed buy-in to what we trying to develop at the club. We have our talent here as well. We hope that Seamas Keogh, who came back to Sligo from Southampton in the middle of the season, will kick on given he’s been able to have a pre-season and settle back.”

Six new signings with Max Mata arriving today

According to the manager, he sees the transfers of Johnny Kenny to Celtic and John Mahon to Saint Johnstone as a success story for Sligo Rovers.

“We will miss the lads. They gave their very best when they were here. Now they have a chance to be great ambassadors for the club and country.  

“I’m delighted for them and their families. For me, they are proof that the club’s strategy of developing its academy is succeeding. John Mahon came through the ranks. He overcame injury and came back stronger.  Johnny Kenny also came through the academy and loved his time here.  As I understand it this is the first time that two local lads, who came up through the system, have transferred to cross-channel clubs.”

Buckley says the club is right to use the academy to help attract talent from the North West region and beyond. 

“We have no big benefactor or wealthy owners but the club still has the good sense to appoint a full-time staff member, Conor O’Grady, to help develop the academy. 

“Given our location and the way the club is owned by the community, this policy makes sense.”

Seamas Keogh has impressed during pre-season

The manager says that since he arrived over three years ago, he has been conscious of the need to improve the playing surface at The Showgrounds. The inclement weather in the region remains a factor while there is a long-term to lay a new surface.

“I know the ongoing efforts to make the most of what we have.  I do feel our teams will only have the confidence to express themselves fully when there is a new pitch at The Showgrounds. That would make a genuine difference to us.”

He says he is excited by the club’s Masterplan.

“If the facilities described in the plan can be delivered, I think it will set up Sligo Rovers as a force for decades to come.  I know the people involved, from the chairman down, are working hard behind the scenes.  

“The news about the floodlights is a great start.  If they can deliver a new pitch, replace the all-weather surface, improve the ground and get academy facilities in the area, Sligo will become an example for the rest of the country.”

Under Buckley’s tenure, the club have continually risen in the league standings with each passing season.

For the second successive year, it is one of the four League of Ireland clubs set to compete in Europe in July.

“Every club has used the close-season to try to put improvements in place.  It’s going to be a very competitive league again this year.  

“Since I came here in October 2018 with my wife, Orlaith, we’ve been made feel welcome.  We have kind neighbours in Riverstown, we know how much the club means to the area and its supporters. 

“I’m not the kind of manager who goes shouting up and down the side line. I take my notes through the game and discuss these with the players at half time and throughout the week. I prefer to try and play by design not by chance. I am 100% committed to doing my best for Sligo Rovers. I enjoy being here and I want to give something back. It’s a very exciting proposition for the year ahead and we’re excited to get underway.”