Sligo Rovers and Raffaele Cretaro have released a joint statement this afternoon as it was confirmed that the club legend had worn the Bit O’ Red as a player for the final time.
Sligo Rovers have paid a detailed tribute to the 37-year-old, saying he made an indelible mark on not just a football club but the Sligo community over 17 seasons.
With 531 appearances and 86 goals, including the record amount of league appearance for the club, the Tubbercurry man inspired generations that set foot in The Showgrounds for close to two decades.
Raffaele Cretaro said: “My dream was to play for Sligo Rovers. I didn’t know if it was going to last for one game, one start or one year. I just wanted to fulfil my dream. I wanted to dedicate myself to that for how ever long it lasted, I’m proud to say I did.
“I have amazing memories that will stay with me for my entire life. It has been so much of my life since I made my debut in 2000. I’m thankful to Tommy Cassidy for giving me that chance.
“I was a local lad, I wanted to play for my local club and I wanted to be the best player I could.
“Each season went by and there wasn’t too many times where I reflected in depth and dwelt on it. It was always looking forward, trying to learn, trying to fashion the chance to do something better each year here.
“As I speak about it today I could talk about all those wonderful days. The game against St Patrick’s Athletic to win the league title and scoring two goals. Everything was perfect that day. The drama and the euphoria. It was a fairytale.
“The FAI Cups, the great teams, the unbelievably talented team-mates, inspirational managers, the dedicated people around the club and the passionate supporters who live and breathe Rovers and make it what it is.
“The feeling of knowing you were creating history for Sligo Rovers but more so what it would mean to all those people. I always just wanted to savour it and then do it all over again.
“Those moments are what you put boots on for. But you know too there were also not so great times. I never let those phase me.
“I saw it all and I just always realised there would be an opportunity, whether it was in one week or two weeks or how ever long, that you could go out and try to change it on the pitch and alter the club’s fortunes.
“I don’t think there is a secret to longevity in terms of me playing here.
“But for Sligo Rovers and how the club always comes back fighting when its down, that is the secret. There is always another day as long as you’re willing to work for it. The club has never been beaten in that sense.
“I got to fulfil my career ambition. I remember coming out of The Shed end in The Showgrounds when it was wired fencing around it and in my first season the main stand was being built beside it. As I sit here today, it’s a transformation.
“That came about by the golden era we had here. That was a legacy left behind. I don’t want to talk too much about my own personal legacy, I think that’s for others to do.
“What I would like to say what if I inspired one person, even just one, then I did a good job in my time wearing the Rovers jersey. If it’s one young boy or girl dreaming now, if it was one dreaming over the 17 seasons I played here, then that’s good enough for me because it can turn into something magical. I speak from experience.
“There is a little bit of sadness that it’s over now as a Sligo Rovers player. I realise that and there’s a mixture of emotions.
“Wherever I went I always felt I didn’t just represent myself but I represented Sligo Rovers. It was not me as a person that people were viewing, it was the club.
“I love Rovers, I always had its best interest at heart and I probably put it ahead of my own sometimes, but it was worth it on every occasion.
“I will move to part-time football elsewhere shortly and that’ll suit me at this stage in my career. Those games are Friday nights. On a Saturday I can say you’ll very likely find me in The Showgrounds with my son Matteo supporting the team again.
“As I speak about Matteo, I want to mention my testimonial this year and the standout moment. That was when my wife Joanne and Matteo were by my side looking on with pride. It meant so much to me. He might not be old enough to remember too much of it but I hope one day he can look back at the great photos and souvenirs of the occasion. My pride was as big as theirs.
“Joanne was there from the beginning, encouraging me, and my parents supported me in each decision and guided me. My family have always been there when I needed them and I’m so grateful to have them.
“I’m conscious if I start speaking about individuals in football I could go on forever. I would like to say this and finish on this note.
“The reason I played here for so long was you; the supporters. I just want to say thank you. The public were so kind. The reception and encouragement I’d get each time in The Showgrounds was something I will always treasure.
“As each year passed, that connection and support grew stronger.
“You drive the club on. Through hardship, glory, good times and bad, you always keep funds coming in to bring in the players, you bring the colour, the noise here and the passion to never give up.
“There are countless more stories for Sligo Rovers players to go out and write on that pitch and I’ll be watching on for those.
“I count myself very fortunate that mine was so long, so rewarding, with memories and moments that we all lived together.
“See you under lights on a Saturday night and thank you forever.”