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In-form Keena not giving up hope on return to Europe with Sligo

Sligo Rovers trail the European places by four points as the league enters its final straight.

Aidan Keena with his SWI/SSE Airtricity Player of the Month award.
Aidan Keena with his SWI/SSE Airtricity Player of the Month award.
Image: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

SLIGO ROVERS’ JOURNEY through Europe was record-breaking in the context of the club’s history, winning two ties for the first time. They needed valedictory heroics from Ed McGinty in a shootout win over Bala Town before then easing past Motherwell, making fools of the Scottish journalist who defined then as ‘minnows’ in the build-up. 

The campaign ran aground against Viking of Norway, who were 5-1 winners in the first leg of the third qualifying round for the Conference League. A subsequent 1-0 win in the home game restored some pride for Sligo, and also continued their fine contributions to the league’s European coefficient. 

Now the aim is to return to Europe next season, which Sligo will need to do via the league having been shocked in the first round of the FAI Cup by Wexford. A top-three place guarantees European football, but fourth spot will earn qualification once the Cup is won by one of the top three, which has been the case across the last few seasons. 

Sligo’s defeat at Richmond Park last Sunday leaves them four points off Pat’s in fourth place, but striker Aidan Keena isn’t giving up hope. 

“Definitely. I think it’s 11 league games left. We have to play Pat’s, Dundalk, Derry, we have to play all the teams around us still, and I’m looking forward to the challenge. That’s the aim, get back into Europe.

“It’s still doable. Obviously that wasn’t ideal, the result the other day but nothing comes easily in this league. Everyone beats everyone and a few wins and you could be right back up in it again.

“We need to go into every game knowing we need to win it. We can’t afford too many more slip-ups if we want to get into Europe next season. We’ll all knuckle down, get right to it and have a good go at it.”

“It was unbelievable for the club and the fans”, said Keena of the European run. “The first two trips weren’t far away so we got a lot of fans over, and they enjoyed the weekends and the few days away. Unlucky then against Viking, they were very good over there, but still good from the lads to come back and get a win here. We had a go at them over there and they were just better than us over there, simple as that. They are a good team and move the ball well, they got a couple of early goals which helped them. Obviously I missed out on the home game [through injury] but it’s good from the lads to show we could beat them over here.” 

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Keena is doubtful for tonight’s game away to Finn Harps through injury, but says he found the step-up to European football straightforward. 

“When you’re playing every week and you’re fit and sharp, you don’t mind what game you’re going into. We have been playing every week here, and were going into a team in pre-season with Motherwell, I think Bala were in pre-season too. I think we were just fitter and sharper than them.” 

His signing has been a success story for Sligo: Keena is the league’s joint-top goalscorer and, picked up a second SWI/SSE Airtricity Player of the Month award of the season for his performances in July. Having signed under Liam Buckley, he recently penned a contract extension under new manager John Russell. 

“Yeah, I’ve been loving it up here. I knew Liam Buckley before, I worked with him at Pat’s. A no-brainer coming back to him, I knew I’d play. It’s worked out. [John] just has us fitter and playing a bit quicker. Minor changes, but it’s worked out for him, thank God.” 

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Gavin Cooney

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