Raffaele Cretaro interview – Part Three

In the third and final instalment of our chat with Raffaele Cretaro, the Tubbercurry man speaks about the role Ian Baraclough played in his career. He touches on how the Showgrounds has grown to be one of the finest sports facilities in the country.

Raff also explains why he’s so driven to win this year’s EA Sports Cup and reminds us all that he’s nowhere near ready to hang up his boots. We pick up the story mid-way through the 2014 season. 

By David Goulden and Jessica Farry.

Baraclough left Rovers by mutual consent in 2014 after three successful years with the club.

“Ian was probably the most honest manager I’ve ever played under”, Raff professes.

“He was straight down the middle and told you how it was. He had great time for me. I played a lot for him in the second half of 2012. I would have always been first off the bench when I was on it, so there was a great mutual respect.

“Not only as a player but as a person because sometimes you can tend to throw the dummy out when you’re not playing. But I knew I’d get a chance so it was up to me whether it was five minutes or a half hour, can I do something in that five minutes to make him say ‘I need this guy in my team’? That was the attitude I think a lot of the players had and it played a big part in what we did.”

Baraclough was replaced by John Coleman in the summer of 2014. The former Accrington Stanley manager guided Rovers past FK Banga in the Europa League. This, before recording what was arguably the club’s greatest ever victory, beating Norwegian giants Rosenborg in their own back yard.

Much of the money earned from domestic success and European adventures was ploughed back into the Showgrounds infrastructure. A decision Raff says will stand to the club in the long term.

“We didn’t go crazy in regards of giving crazy money to players”, he adds. “You look out at the Showgrounds and you see what’s been done at the ground. We have one of the best if not the best facilities in the country and that’s down to our committee working behind the scenes and putting back in what we earned on the pitch into the ground. It’s great for Ger when he’s bringing in new players to show them the ground and what we’ve got to offer.”

Owen Heary, one of Raff’s former team mates at Bohs took over before the 2015 season. But an underwhelming league campaign ended prematurely, the current Shels boss’ reign.

“It just didn’t happen for him”, Raff states. “I got on with him knowing him from Bohs. Maybe the job came too early for him? He did well at Bohs and that’s why he came here. The expectation was maybe still a bit high after the golden years and I don’t think that helped him. If you went to him now, he’d probably admit he’d do things differently. Maybe not. But that’s football. You learn and you take the positives.”

The job of keeping Rovers at the top table then fell to Mickey Adams and Alan Rodgers.

“I always read about Mickey and how well he was doing when he was Leicester. So to have him and Alan who would have been a Premier League player coming in was great”, Cretaro says.

“Alan would rip the piss and get the craic going before training and I think he added that spark around the place. That made the difference! The dressing room was a bit low at the time but they picked us all up. They had a huge influence on us staying up that year.”

A fresh approach was decided on and Dave Robertson took over with the 2016 season on the horizon.

An impressive first season finished with Rovers in the top half of the table and looking good to push for a return the next year. But Raff can’t shake that feeling of regret in that maybe the push for continental football ended a little too early.

“I think we should have got Europe that year”, he admits. “Towards the end of the season I was disappointed not to. The first eight or nine games didn’t go to plan. I didn’t play, but you stay positive and keep your head down.

“Dave started me for the first time at home to Longford, I scored and from then on I just drove on. I think I fitted Dave’s system really well too, the diamond. I ended up playing some of my best football.”

The Londoner was unable to bring the club any further and after a poor start to last season, was replaced by current boss Ger Lyttle.

“Dave did his best to create a positive environment”, Raff adds. “He did a fantastic job in doing that because up to the day he left, there was a real togetherness about the group. To me, Dave was one of the best coaches I’ve ever played under. I think I noticed everything he did because I was in the middle of doing my coaching badges.”

Lyttle gradually steered Rovers in the right direction with a final day stalemate with Drogheda enough to keep the Bit O’Red in the division.

Raff feels that these days, he is not only able to contribute to Lyttle’s plans with his feet but also with his mind, given his wealth of experience.

“Ger wants everyone to work their socks off and I think that was a big part of us staying up last year.

“He won’t settle for mediocre be it in a match or in training. For me, I’ve been through it all and I see myself and someone who can lend experience in what Ger’s trying to do. If I see a younger player struggling, I’ll do my best to give him confidence and help him out with where he might be going wrong. I got a text from Ali Roy after he left here and he told me he wanted to thank me because he was at a low and he said I was a big part of him getting his confidence back.”

When pressed on his opinion of who was the best player Raff ever shared a dressing room with, there can’t be much surprise to anyone who has regularly attended Rovers games in the recent past.

“I’ve been lucky to play with so many great players but Joey Ndo, both on and off the pitch is a leader.

“Paul and Ian brought in the belief but Joey really drove it. I remember going to places like Bohs and there might be some fear. I didn’t find that as for me, the bigger the team, the more I want to perform. But sometimes players can be beat before they got off the bus. I think Joey changed that.

“We went out in every game with our chests out saying ‘we’re not going to be beaten’. We were going to Dalymount, Tallaght, wherever and we were taking three points. There were tough games but we were always confident and I think that was down to Joey. I speak to him regularly and I think he’s left some of those leadership qualities with me.

“For instance, we went to Dundalk a few weeks ago and although they’re top and going well I had nothing in my mind but that we were winning that game. I knew we had enough in our dressing room to beat them. We went very close to taking something. But I do think as a team we need to get that mentality of fearlessness back.”

Cretaro has come up against his fair share of tough opponents throughout his 18 years in the game. When questioned on his toughest rivals, he says:

“As a winger I’d hate to come up against Owen Heary and Keith Foy. Owen just used to kick you up and down the pitch.

“With Foyzer, all you’d hear from him when I played against him was ‘get at him, look at the size of him’. I’m faster that Keith, but there was never a time when you’d out-run him. He was so good that you never got near the ball. He never got himself into trouble and he strolled through games!

“I remember Paddy McCourt taking him on one time and doing his hamstring. I’ll never forget Foyzer after the game telling me ‘look what happened Paddy, he took me on and look at him now!’. He was a great character who for me, should have been playing at the highest level.”

It’s glaringly obvious from speaking to him that Raff has little intention of slowing down any time soon.

However, the future isn’t far from his mind. A coach with the club’s under 19 side, Cretaro is enjoying the experience of lending a hand with the younger players.

Having just completed his A Licence, he says he’s happy to assist with the 19s for now, but his ambition in the short term is to play, not coach.

“In five or so year’s time I might be looking to do something in that line. But for now, I feel I’ve more to give as a player. I speak to a lot of lads who have retired and they’ve told me I’ll be long enough sitting on the couch at home.

“There’s not that many opportunities in Ireland because there’s not that many full-time capacities available. But I want to stay in football in some capacity. I love the game and I still have a real passion to pass on everything I’ve learned.”

“I’m privileged to still be here. But it’s not by chance. I’ve worked and still work hard. I’m one of the first on the training pitch every day and I’m the last off because I’m staying on to do extra stretching or whatever. I’m still hungry and as long as I still have that, I’ll keep going.

“I won’t say I was surprised but that’s me because I want to play every minute. Now that might not be possible but I’ll do all I can. In training some days, we’ll do a hard double session in the morning and another session in the afternoon. Sometimes Ger will come to me and see how I am and sometimes I’ll have to sit out part of it and those are the little things that help me prolong my career.”

The one medal missing from his collection is the league cup. Rovers face Derry in that very competition at the Showgrounds on the August bank holiday weekend.

“I will be moving heaven and earth to try and win that one”, Raff commands.

“Winning it was the start of the golden era back then. If we were to win it, it would give Ger and the players a chance to taste success and that can only push us all on.”

“I’m still full of energy and enthusiasm. I’ve won a lot but I want to win more. When I finish, I want to finish by winning something.”

Raff’s testimonial takes place this Saturday at the Showgrounds at 6pm.

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You can read part one of this interview here: https://www.sligorovers.com/raffaele-cretaro-interview-part-one/

While part two is available here: https://www.sligorovers.com/raffaele-cretaro-interview-part-two/