Raffaele Cretaro interview – Part Two

In the second part of Raffaele Cretaro’s interview with members of the local media, he speaks about the impact Paul Cook had at the Showgrounds, his move and subsequent return from Bohs and reminisces about league and cup victories.

By David Goulden and Jessica Farry.

Rob McDonald’s time at Rovers was cut short before it really began. But after the door closed, it opened again to someone who would go on to drastically reshape the fortunes of Sligo Rovers.

Of pre-season 2007, Raff says: “We didn’t obviously know what was happening. Rob was here, he was going, he was back again. For the benefit of hindsight, the next man that came in was the man that changed everything.

“These things happen for a reason, I’m a firm believer in that. Paul Cook came in, it took him three years to get to where he wanted to be. By god he did it. He created something here that made us believe as a group.

“Not only as an individual, but as a group, that we were invincible. That was the belief we had. We were going out every game thinking ‘we’re going to win’. There was no negative thought of ‘we might lose today’. There was none of that. We knew someone was going to produce. If it wasn’t Jason McGuinness it was Richie Ryan or Joseph Ndo, or whoever it may be.”

Rovers qualified for the 2009 Europa League with an astounding fourth placed finish the previous year. There were disappointments both there and in the infamous Tallaght cup final where Rovers surrendered the lead to be beaten by Sporting Fingal in the cruelest of fashions.

Having enjoyed his best season in front of goal, netting 26 times in all competitions, the inevitable interest arrived from clubs both at home and abroad.

The usual League of Ireland big-hitters came sniffing, as did Millwall and host of Scottish clubs. Shortly after the cup final, Bohs announced they had signed Cretaro on a long term deal.

“It was one of those ones where I had a fantastic 2009 under Paul. I probably had the best season of my career. As Paul said, ‘I’d created a monster’. Those were his very words.

“But there was never a stage when I wanted to leave. Bohs were the so-called ‘kingpins’ of Irish football at the time. They had just won the double, I was thinking to myself ‘I’m 27, going on 28, will I get the opportunity to win something?’.

“I thought ‘maybe it might pass me by’. It wasn’t a case of money or anything like that because by the end of it, I remember sitting down with Paul Cook and Mary McGowan, Paul nearly had me in a headlock.

“They moved heaven and earth to try and keep me. This was just after the cup final. Because I had such a good season, there was a lot of stuff going on in the background.

“There was interest from Millwall and there was interest from across the Irish Sea. I was a bit flattered by all of this because I had never received that much attention. I was probably getting pushed towards going to Bohs without knowing that, if I stayed here, because I knew what was being built here. I knew that if I waited it was only a matter of time before there was success.

“But with things going on, you’re kind of pushed towards a two year contract, 52 weeks, good money. If I had the benefit of hindsight I probably would go back, I don’t have many regrets in football. I would say I had a good time up there but if I was to say I had one regret it would be that I didn’t stay and give Paul Cook another year and a chance. I missed out on the 2010 cup.”

Rovers beat Cretaro’s Bohs on their way to that famous win over Shamrock Rovers. Gavin Peers scoring the only goal of the game in front of five thousand supporters at Dalymount Park.

With almost one thousand making the journey to shout on the Bit O’Red that day, the game didn’t pass without Raff being on the end of some choice words from the Des Kelly Stand.

“I actually took it with a pinch of salt”, Raff smiles. “Even to this day, I get it at Bohs. That’s football. I guarantee you if I met the same fellow in the street who’s shouting at me we’d have great conversation. That’s football. Nothing personal. I don’t take anything personal. Whatever side I’m on, if there’s someone having a bit of craic with me I’ll crack a smile, I’ll run my fingers through my hair. Or I’ll do something just to get a giggle. I love it. The feeling I get from it is ‘if I wasn’t any good they wouldn’t be trying to boo me’.

“I feel like they do it because I can have an impact on the game, and I can have a bit of craic as well. That might be another side to it. I really enjoy it. It’s part of football and part of the game.

Even though he admits his misfortune in missing out on the 2010 cup double, this Rovers fan could not hide his delight in seeing his local club claim silverware.

“It was painful in a way that we had lost it the year before. We had a great chance of winning it and we lost it. I was happy for all the lads, and Paul, and I was happy for the club as well. I am a supporter at the end of the day. I wanted everyone to do well. When they came back if there was any bit of bitterness I wouldn’t have shown my face anywhere. I was there welcoming every single one of the lads back. I was in Fiddler’s with the lads afterwards enjoying the party as much as they were!”

With Bohs struggling financially, Cook did his best to take Cretaro back to Sligo in the summer to even out the loss of Padraig Amond who had signed for Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira.

“Throughout the year I was at Bohs I was in contact with Paul. We tried our best for me to come back in July. He pushed to try and get me back but Pat Fenlon was having none of it. To be fair, Pat (Fenlon) was very good with me and really rated me. Anytime I was fit I played for him. I have a lot of respect for him in that regard.

“But the general feeling at Bohs was if you had a two year deal, they were going to honour it. In another breath they were saying ‘if you find another club and want to move on, you can do so’.

“I didn’t care that I had a two year deal or that I was on a 52 week contract, I was on a fantastic wage, I only wanted to be in one place. ‘Get me back home as quick as possible’, I thought.

“I was lucky that Paul didn’t take it personal that I left in 2009 even though he does joke about it sometimes. He kept the respect for me like ‘I think if I bring this guy back he can do something for us and help the team achieve something that I want to achieve’.”

Cretaro returned for his third and current spell ahead of the 2011 season and was keen to reward both manager and club for their faith.

“I think I did that. I think I did reward him the following season in some regards with a couple of good performances and a performance coming on as a substitute in the cup final that helped us to go on to believe and scoring the winning penalty.”

A second place finish in the league, an admirable performance in Ukraine at Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League and the club’s fourth FAI Cup were all part of a successful 2011 season. Having missed out on the previous year’s drama, it was fitting that Raff himself would hit the winning penalty in that year’s decider against Shels.

“I probably couldn’t come back to anything better than getting the chance to score the winning penalty in the Aviva. You couldn’t write it. It wasn’t planned. I was the fifth penalty taker and it happened to be that if I scored then we won.

“On the way up to taking the penalty, in my head singing Rihanna’s song ‘Cheers for the Weekend’ just before I went up to take the penalty to calm myself and block everything out.

“I took a note that the keeper would go to his left if it was a left footer, if it was a right footer he’d be going to his right. I just put it the other side and the keeper went the other way. It’s hard to describe the feeling. We’ve just won the cup again and I’ve scored the winning penalty. I remember taking off my top and just swinging it around. The place just going crazy. I was delighted that I got the chance to see it as a winner, and not just sample it as a spectator the year before so I’ve seen it from both sides.”

Cook’s reign came to an end on the eve of the 2012 season. Having finished third and second behind Shams in 2010 and 2011 respectively, many Rovers supporters felt the chance of adding to the club’s previous two League of Ireland titles had slipped away.

Up stepped the relatively inexperienced Ian Baraclough to pick up the pieces.

“I would undoubtedly say that besides my debut, that’s the day that stands out more than anything.”

October 13th, 2012. Cretaro scores twice to put Rovers into the lead in a game where three points would bring with it a first League of Ireland title in 35 years. The Saints manage to pull it level but as if by a miracle, Mark Quigley steps up to dispatch a late penalty to the net.

“It was the day we won the league, and everything about the day. The Showgrounds was packed, you couldn’t get more people in. I do look back sometimes before a game, I’m the kind of guy who would be big into looking back on stuff that will help you for a game that you’re going in to. It can be a good tool for confidence. I would always go back and look at that game and the highlights on YouTube.”

Reflecting on the game and the season as a whole, Raff admits that, as with any league win, a slice of fortune was required. The year started with a last minute equaliser at Tolka Park courtesy of Jason McGuinness, while he feels that late penalty could have gone either way.

“I never felt at any stage that we were going to lose that game. We did get a huge chunk of luck, not only that day but also that season. People say luck had a massive part to play in it and we got so many great things that happened to us that year.”

“Jason scored a last minute equaliser against Shels and scores a last minute winner at home shortly after. So these are all things that had a rolling effect to get us across the line. That day was a Peersy help on to Connor Kenna’s hand and the ref has given us a spot-kick. We got so much luck that season!”

Even though he was on a hat-trick, Raff stuck to the agreement that Quigley would me the man responsible from 12 yards.

“I wouldn’t profess to be a penalty taker at any stage. I’d always step up in a penalty shoot-out. I’ve scored a few. But Mark was our penalty taker, he was on them before the game so there was no way I’d be thinking ‘well I’m on a hat-trick. Let me take it’. It wasn’t about me, it was about the team. I had no doubt when Mark stood up that there was only one place it was going to end up.”

Baraclough lead Rovers to silverware once again in 2013 in the shape of a third FAI Cup in four years. While a first All-Ireland title was dragged across the Shannon in 2014 as the club secured the Setanta Sports Cup with a 1-0 win over Dundalk.

“We knew that cup final with Drogheda was going to be a hard game. We had a lot of battles with them that year and we knew they were just a dogged team that will do everything to stop us playing. They did it really well too!

Cretaro gave his all in that game but a change in tack was required twenty minutes from time. The rest is history.

“Ian told me he had to throw the sink at it so he got me off. Danny North came on, probably a bit pissed off he didn’t start that day and it was the best twenty minutes I’ve ever seen from any player. He was the difference. Drogs couldn’t deal with him, Anthony Elding and Kieran Djilali’s movement. His chest down for Elding’s finish, I don’t care if Buffon is in the goal, he’s not saving that!”

Keep an eye out on sligorovers.com for part three in the coming days. Part one of this interview is available here: https://www.sligorovers.com/raffaele-cretaro-interview-part-one/