Buckley: Fixture list focuses minds ahead of pre-season

Sligo Rovers manager Liam Buckley feels the opening day fixture against Dundalk will be a challenging encounter, and the release of the list of games will focus minds ahead of the new campaign.

Rovers have an intriguing start, with the Lilywhites visiting on 20 March in our first game.

Indeed in terms of home games, it’s Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers first up for the Bit O’Red.

Away from home Rovers will be heading for Waterford and Longford early on.

Buckley said: “I’ve no doubt it will be a very hard game. We’ve had our battles with Dundalk in the last number of years, FAI Cup semi-finals and more.

“We’ve competed well in a lot of those games and we’re certainly going to have do that again if we are to get any type of result.

“Dundalk will have their sights on honours again next season as they have done for many years now.

“I think when you look at a fixture list it focuses the minds of everyone. You have something to build towards. As regards an opening fixture, it will be difficult but also one we can look forward to.

“This game is one we can build towards over the next six weeks and the rest of the season thereafter.”

The Rovers boss was adamant that last season threw up a scenario where every league game was extremely difficult to win, and it was evident in several unpredictable results, particularly towards the end of the season.

Ahead of the 2021 campaign, he expects the task to be just as hard: “We move on to Waterford away after Dundalk as just one example. Kevin Sheedy and Mike Newell are in there this season and I think you’ll see a lot of good players coming from England and Scotland to join their squad over the next few weeks.

“That will really strengthen them so it will be difficult. There was the odd goal in both matches last season. As always we’ll be doing our homework on the rest of the sides.

“That said, we’re really just focusing on our preparations over the next six weeks, getting our lads up to speed, getting patterns of play and all of that where it should be.”

One element that was somewhat deflating in the fixture announcement yesterday was what might have been.

Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Finn Harps are the first three home games for Buckley’s men and in normal times, there would be bumper and likely sell-out crowds at The Showgrounds, as well as a large visiting support from Sligo in Longford in early April.

As it stands crowds are not expected to return to games in the first series of games and likely longer.

Buckley said: “We just have to hope that please God we can have some supporters later in the year.

“We do miss them, they are a big loss to us here. We know they were watching on via stream or listening on the radio last season and it is disappointing we face into that again. We want them with us.

“You just have to hope we get the go-ahead later in the year.

“For now, starting the league on the date scheduled is the next step. If we can get the league up and running with everyone healthy and following all the protocols, that will put it in the right direction.

“I’m told we’ve sold nigh-on 600 passes for when fans can return which is just brilliant in the circumstances. We’d love to be able to welcome back the supporters with us going well and some big games so that’s what we’ll be aiming for.”