Preview: Rovers host Bohs Women

Home advantage for a historic game as Sligo Rovers host Bohemian FC in the opening round of the Avenir Women’s All-Island Cup on Saturday at the Showgrounds, 5pm, writes Conall Collier.

Apart from the history attached to the opening weekend of action in an innovative competition, this game also marks the return to action in an All-Island competition by a team from the last club to win a similar event.

The Sligo Rovers men were the last winners of what was the All-Ireland Setanta Sports Cup with a victory against Dundalk at Tallaght Stadium in 2014.

The club has a good tradition in what were different formats of All-Ireland competitions and some 53 years ago, back in 1970, Sligo Rovers played Coleraine in what was then the Blaxnit Cup – a final that was played over two legs.

The first leg was at Windsor Park in Belfast where Sligo Rovers recorded a famous 1-0 victory, but the team slumped to a 4-1 defeat (4-2 on aggregate) in the second leg at a packed Dalymount Park.

While it’s not exactly a case of ‘fast-forward’ 53 years, it’s somewhat appropriate that the first opposition for Sligo Rovers in this Avenir All-Island Cup is the team from Dalymount Park because back in 1970 there was a tremendous tussle in the FAI Cup final of that year against Bohemian FC.

Alas, Sligo Rovers didn’t win on that occasion, but gained some compensation in 1983 when Bohemian FC provided the FAI Cup final opposition and on that occasion Sligo Rovers won.

Against that type of background, the first round contest between the women of Sligo Rovers and Bohemian FC will have a special place in the annals of the perennial survivors from what has often been described as a ‘soccer outpost’ in the North West of Ireland.

And it’s almost (not quite) ordained that this could be the game that will bring the battling qualities out of a Sligo Rovers team that is finding the going tough this season and is still searching for a first home win of 2023.

The formbook suggests that this will be a leisurely stroll for the Dalymount Park women who are pushing for honours at the top end of the table and currently sit in fourth place following what was a hard-earned 2-1 victory against Cork City last weekend.

In complete contrast, Sligo Rovers remain anchored in the bottom two, just two points ahead of the aforementioned Cork City, a side the Bit O’Red defeated at Turner’s Cross earlier this season.

However, this encounter is the first of three group games and the only home tie for the Bit O’Red as 16 teams in four groups of four set out to claim qualification places with each group winner advancing to the semi-finals.

It appears to have been a missed opportunity on behalf of the administrators that they just didn’t take the opportunity for subsidiary competitions for the four second-placed, third placed and fourth-placed teams.

It would surely have enhanced the competition and would have provided eight teams with final opportunities instead of the two that will eventually emerge.

And promotion of the cross-border competition is surely important regardless of the grade of the second, third and fourth tier finals that could have been slotted into the schedule.

However, the Sligo Rovers players will be well aware of the challenge that Bohemian FC will provide.

Last May at Dalymount, Lisa Murphy’s 20th minute goal was the difference between the sides as the Dublin women managed a 1-0 victory.

That result suggests that there won’t bee too much between the sides after 90 minutes on Saturday, but a winning start is what Sligo Rovers require and they might just have learned enough at this stage to tighten up at the back, batten down the hatches and grind out a result.If they can manage that, and with players of the calibre of Emma Doherty, Casey Howe and Lauren Boles driving the team forward, that elusive first home win of the season might be achieved ahead of trips to Strabane next weekend and Belfast the following week.