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The League of Ireland title comes back across the Shannon as Sligo Rovers win out for the first time in 35 years; it's a deserved success

By Ronan Murphy

Saturday afternoon saw the League of Ireland title return to the Showgrounds in Sligo for the first time since 1977 after a pulsating 3-2 victory over St Patrick's Athletic. The last time the Bit O'Red laid their hands on the title, John Giles was playing for, and managing, Ireland, while David O'Leary and Frank Stapleton were just after breaking into the national side. Sligo Rovers have had many ups and downs since then, but are widely and correctly considered as deserved winners of the 2012 Airtricty Premier Division title.








Manager Ian Baraclough had a tricky task on his hands when he inherited the position from Paul Cook. Cook had left for Accrington Stanley in the English Football League on the eve of the new campaign, and, after their European adventures last season, Shamrock Rovers were title favourites once again. Baraclough had limited success as a manager cross-channel, and many fans at the Showgrounds would have preferred one of the other names linked with the job - Brian Little and Kevin Kilbane were among the rumoured successors for Cook.

Despite having no League of Ireland experience, Baraclough instantly took to the competitive nature of the division, and after a draw and four wins in his first five league games, Sligo moved to the top of the table. They stayed there ever since.

The Bit O'Red had lost many of their key players in the offseason, with Richie Ryan and Eoin Doyle heading for Scotland, Brendan Clarke, John Russell, and Aaron Greene involved in the domestic transfer merry-go-round, and Matthew Blinkhorn moving to England.

Sligo's replacements helped flesh out the squad, while the backbone of the team remained. Romuald Boco returned from Asia, Gary Rogers took Clarke's place in goal, Ross Gaynor and his set-piece prowess arrived while Mark Quigley and Danny North brought much-needed firepower. While Sean McCaffrey was snapping up many former Ireland underage internationals for Dundalk, it was Englishman Baraclough who found real gems with English-based David Cawley, Ryan Connolly and Seamus Conneely making an impact and providing squad depth. Baraclough's scouting overseas also unearthed Haitian winger Pascal Millien, whose dribbling skills have quickly made him a Showgrounds favourite.

Sligo's cup runs weren't as successful as their league campaign, and a 4-2 aggregate loss to Spartak Trnava in Europe was worsened by a long-term injury to leading scorer Danny North. However, Baraclough's side coped with his absence, as Quigley emerged from the shadows to fill his scoring boots and lead by example up front.

Long-time Sligo servants Gavin Peers and Danny Ventre were ever-present in the side, and their experience was greatly beneficial to the younger players, while Cameroon international Joseph Ndo had his best season in a Sligo jersey.

If Baraclough can keep the nucleus of this team together for the 2013 Airtricity Premier Division season, the Bit O'Red should be guaranteed back-to-back league titles for the first time in their history, but also could have an impact in Champions League qualifiers.

For the team playing the best football in the country, that would be welcome progress.