Such was FAI chief John Delaney’s desire to see Sligo Rovers host their upcoming Europa League tie at the Showgrounds, he has vowed to stump up his own money to ensure the stadium meets UEFA requirements.
The rise of Paul Cook’s Bit O’Red has electrified Sligo and the surrounding area with their brand of exciting football, climaxing in a thrilling FAI Cup final victory at the Aviva Stadium last year.
It was the triumph of another side at Lansdowne Road however, that has put Sligo within touching distance of a play-off and Irish sporting history. Porto’s win in the Europa League in Dublin, and their subsequent qualification for the Champion’s League, left a vacancy in the third round of UEFA’s secondary competition. That position has been filled by Ireland’s cup holders who are now two games away from the play-offs for the group stage proper, the holy grail for domestic soccer’s bid to capture the imagination of the Irish sporting public.
The Europa League second round commences next week and once that series is finished, with Bohemians and St. Patrick’s Athletic vying to join Sligo in the pot, the Irish side will learn of their opponents for the final qualifying stage before the play-offs. Shamrock Rovers, who will contest the Champion’s League prelimiaries, could also find themselves in the play-off round depending on how they fare. Among the potential big names Sligo could meet are Athletico Madrid, Stoke City, and Sparta Prague.
Sligo hosted a delegation from UEFA this week, and subject to some alterations, they have been granted permission to host the European tie in their home ground, much to the delight of John Delaney.
Founded in 1928, Rovers have played at the Showgrounds since their inception. The stadium has undergone redevelopment in recent years and boasts a capacity of around 5000 with over 2000 seats. The club are expected to increase the seating for the Europa League clash by a further 1000 with other works including widening the playing surface. Chairman Michael Toolan anticpates the cost could reach €50,000.
FAI supremo John Delaney recognises that Sligo has always been a hotbed for soccer and having the game take place there will provide a massive boost but manager Paul Cook has brought the local side to the brink of something even bigger. Delaney vowed to contribute his own cash to ensure the Showgrounds meets UEFA’s criteria and he promised to come good on that offer if the need arises.
Hosting the clash in Sligo is a no-lose situation for football in the region. Talk of the game will be on the lips of all sports followers in the West but holding the contest in their own backyard also gives Rovers the opportunity of advancing to a potentially history-making moment for Irish football.
Depending on who they are paired with, Sligo could be in for a financial windfall should they accompany a big name out of the drum. Yet, a more favourable outcome at the draw in Nyon and the Connacht club, who’s brand of football under the Liverpudlian Cook has won admiration throughout the country, could propel the game here to a whole new level.
And John Delaney especially knows the value of such a scenario for the sport in Ireland would be priceless.