David Cawley Interview

Conall Collier had a chat with David Cawley for an interview in the match night programme for the televised game against St Patrick’s Athletic on Friday last.


On Saturday, David Cawley will have a thoroughly deserved testimonial here at The Showgrounds in recognition of his sterling service to the club over two stints: 2012 – 2015 and 2018 – 2023.

The Mayo man, by his own admission, is a ‘homebird’ and daily travels the 120-kilometre round trip from Ballina to Sligo for training and any other club duties that are required apart from the obvious matchday obligations.

There was a season in Dublin with St Patrick’s Athletic in 2016, but it wasn’t one that David relished and despite enjoying some success with the Inchicore club, a League Cup final win, he made the move back to the West of Ireland and a season with Galway Utd in 2017.

A return to the Showgrounds in 2018 was a welcome boost for David who played his 300th game for the club in the game against Drogheda Utd at the end of July, a fine achievement.

David also has the distinction of playing the most European games for the club which after last season’s Europa Conference League third round, second leg tie against Viking saw him reach 16.

His European debut was back in 2012 in Slovakia against Spartak Trnava in the Europa League. He also featured against Molde in the Champions League with Banga and Rosenborg completing his Europa League tally. The Conference League featured games against FH, Bala Town, Motherwell and Viking.

There was an early Sligo Rovers connection for a young David Cawley who featured on two occasions for the Mayo League in the SFAI Kennedy Cup, with the team on each occasion managed by former Sligo Rovers FAI Cup-winning manager Paul Fielding.

David and his wife Lauren have three daughters and while we were chatting for this article, he was interrupted by his eldest, Robyn, who was eager to tell her father that she had scored a vital goal for Ballina Town u-12s.

For David, the football journey started with Ballina Town and the Mayo League in the Kennedy Cup.

“Going back to the Kennedy Cup with Mayo, I had two years in the squad as I played up a year the first time,” explained David.

“There was that Sligo Rovers connection to the Mayo team as the manager was Paul Fielding, he was a very good coach.

“After my second year at the Kennedy Cup Ipswich Town sent a letter to the Mayo League extending an invitation to go over for a trial and that’s how it started.

“I had played with Ballina Town and I also played GAA for Ballina Stephenites from under-11 to under-16, but I had to make a decision on that when the move to Ipswich came up.

“Amazingly, I managed to get permission from Ipswich to go back home to play for Ballina Stephenites in a GAA under-16 final.

“I had a couple of weeks pre-season with Ipswich at that stage, but back in Ballina they were preparing for the replay a fortnight later

“The Ballina Stephenites club officials sent a request to Ipswich to let me come back for the replay, I had played in the final before I went over to Ipswich, but it was a draw.

“I got permission and we beat Swinford in the replay, so I picked up a GAA medal, I suppose it was a good way to sign off on my fledgling GAA career,” he added.


There were four years at Ipswich, but David came back to Ballina in 2011 and was sidelined with an injury that kept him out of football for a few months.

“I came back from Ipswich in 2011 and I had a knee injury so I couldn’t do much for a few months,” he explained.

“When I recovered, I went on to the FAI / FAS Course as it was called then, in Castlebar, with Leo Tierney and Mickey Feeney, they were involved with that.

“I got my rehab (from injury) and a few other bits and pieces that were necessary and all that actually helped me to stay involved in the game.

“Paul Cook was the manager of Sligo Rovers at the time and in January 2012 I got an invitation to go down to the Showgrounds.

“It gave me a chance to get back into training and it went well as the club offered me a contract.

“It was around the time that Paul (Cook) went to Accrington, but in fairness to the club they moved quickly and got Ian (Baraclough) in as a replacement.

“I had a couple of pre-season friendlies with Paul Cook and he wanted to sign me before he left the club, I suppose it was down to Keith O’Dwyer really as he looked after the paperwork while there was no manager.

“My first time as part of the Sligo Rovers panel was that memorable opening game of the 2012 season away to Shelbourne.

“I was on the bench after signing for the club and Ian Baraclough was the new manager, I made my debut a few weeks later in the Setanta Cup and we went on to have a great few seasons.

“The League title in 2012, an FAI Cup in 2013 and then the Setanta Cup in the rain at Tallaght in 2014.

“The pitch was like a swimming pool, we were 1-0 up and with about 10 minutes to go and the Dundalk players were pleading with the referee to abandon the game due to the conditions.

“They were concerned that someone would get hurt and claiming that it was a disgrace to be playing in the conditions and, of course, we were telling the referee to keep it going.

That was a memorable time and then there were the European games as well,” he recalled.

The good times didn’t last and in 2015 there was a serious relegation battle and a change in manager mid-season with Mickey Adams eventually taking the helm and steering the club to safety, but that season marked the end of David’s time at the Showgrounds.


“At the end of 2015, that season when we had to battle to avoid relegation, Mickey Adams was the manager, but he didn’t stay and it was Dave Robertson who came in and I wasn’t sure what way things were going to go,” said David.

“Liam Buckley was the manager of St Pat’s and he had been trying to sign me previously, so I decided to make the move.

“It was a difficult decision, I wasn’t keen on moving to Dublin with the family, my wife Lauren and two girls at the time, Robyn and Lily, so they stayed in our home in Ballina and I got a place to live in Dublin.

“To be honest, I was out of my comfort zone, we won the League Cup that year, but I even missed the final as I had sustained a broken collar bone playing against Derry City at the Brandywell.

“After St Pat’s I had a season with Galway and that was much more suitable for me, it was near home for starters.

“The manager was Shane Keegan and he had good plans for the club, but in 2017 three teams were relegated from the Premier to facilitate the new format.

“We had a good squad, but it was a small squad and we fell short on the last day of the season and we were relegated.

“I’m not a fan of the 10-team League, playing each other four times, we will play Drogheda five times this season, I always felt that the 12-team format was better,” he suggested.


The form this season has been up and down, it’s frustrating for the supporters, but it’s not enjoyable for the players either, according to David.

“It’s difficult to put a finger on it, the form we have displayed this season, none of us go out on the pitch to have a poor game, it’s very frustrating for the players and I know the supporters are so disappointed,” he remarked.

“We have to fix this, we have to sort it out and get a bit of a run going, we still have plenty to play for.

“I have experienced both sides of the coin, the good days and the days that haven’t been so good and the main requirement when it’s not going well is to have the desire and determination to turn it around.

“We have to have pride in our work, that’s playing football, and we have 11 games to go, that’s a lot of points to play for and we want to move up the table and not just let the season slide.

“We were rock bottom in 2020 and we put a run together and clinched a place in Europe, that took a massive collective push and we need the same again.

“I can tell you now, for a player, the worst feeling is coming off the pitch after losing a game,” he explained.

Injuries to players, a long list of injuries hasn’t helped the team this season, but now some of the ‘walking wounded’ are on the way back and David is delighted with this.

There is also the matter of short-term contracts in the League of Ireland, that can also be challenging for players although it’s an area that David has seen some improvement in recently.

“I was delighted to see Garry Buckley back in the team, a year out with an injury, that has to be difficult to deal with on a personal level.

“I pushed him through the airport in Norway in a wheelchair after he picked up that injury against Viking in the Europa Conference League 12 months ago.

“I could see the look of devastation on his face and he worked so hard to get back on the pitch, it’s a great boost for everyone.

“Garry is a top-class player, a top centre-half, he makes it look easy because he is so composed, he plays the game in his head, he’s a move ahead of everyone else, that’s why he’s so good.

“Playing in the League of Ireland is challenging, from a financial and stability perspective, when I started my career, the norm was nine-month contracts and it would be social welfare for the other three months.

“In fairness to the clubs, it has improved a bit since I came into the League and I suppose it is an achievement to be playing since 2012, if I can make it into 2024 that will be 12 years plus the four that I was at Ipswich, 16 years would be a good innings.


“I’m looking forward to the Testimonial game, it’s a great experience and I have received so much support, it’s brilliant really.

“People like Keith (O’Dwyer), Mary McGowan, Vincent Nally, Shane Crossan, they are doing all the hard work, loads of other people and businesses are providing support also.

“It’s a huge honour for me personally and my family, we have another little girl, Mia, and I’m sure she will also be a footballer like her sisters, Lily who plays under-10 and Robyn who plays under-12 for Ballina Town.

“My parents, Bobby and Valerie, they have been very supportive also as have my sisters Colette and Laura and my brother Dean.

“It will be Sligo Rovers against a David Cawley 11, I should get selected on the team anyway.

“It will bring a lot of the players from the League and FAI Cup-winning teams back together from 2012, 2013 and 2014.

“Last week’s game in Drogheda was my 300th game for Sligo Rovers. I didn’t realise it until after the game, I suppose it is a great achievement.

“I also have the most appearances in Europe for the club, the first game was in the Europa League against Spartak Trnava, that was my European debut and it was memorable.

“Playing in the Champions League against Molde and then the win away to Rosenborg, they all stand out as special memories.

“Last season against Bala Town, we used up a lot of whatever allocation of luck we have for that game.

“The big win against Motherwell and then games against Viking, a step too far, but losing Garry (Buckley) and Adam (McDonnell) early on was a major setback.

“I scored the penalty in Norway, Frank (Liivak) was fouled and he wanted to take it, but I wouldn’t let him

“I said to Frank, we are 5-0 down, I’m taking the penalty, it was great to get the chance in a stadium like that with the home supporters all trying to put me off.

“I hope to play for a few more seasons, I’m also well advanced on my B Licence at this stage and I’m starting to do a bit of coaching as part of the syllabus, but for now the focus is very much on helping Sligo Rovers move up the table,” he concluded.