INPHO/Cathal Noonan Baraclough at the Airtricity League launch this week.
Airtricity League
'We want to win every competition... including the Champions League' - Sligo Rovers boss Ian Baraclough
The Bit O’Red boss firmly believes his squad is stronger than the won which won the Airtricity League Premier Division last season.

EXACTLY ONE YEAR after his arrival in Irish football, Ian Baraclough prepares to defend the Airtricity League Premier Division title.

The Leicester-born manager adapted remarkably well to his new surroundings to steady the ship after Paul Cook’s sudden departure before leading the Bit O’Red to their first league championship in 35 years.

It was a dream start for a man who won plaudits during his debut campaign. Now, with expectations sky-high at the Showgrounds and teams around them strengthening during the off-season, Baraclough has set his sights on retaining the league as well as adding a domestic cup or two.

Then there’s Europe. The last time Sligo competed in the continent’s elite competition, Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Loved Me’ was No1 in the Irish charts. Back in 1977, the opponents were Red Star Belgrade, then of Yugoslavia, who recorded 3-0 wins in both the home and way legs.

The second qualifying round may still be four months off but it is clear that Baraclough is relishing the prospect of pitting his wits against some of the world’s top managers.

“We’re flying the flag for Irish football,” Baraclough told “The Irish league as a whole has improved over the last few years. Clubs are making great strides and there’s no reason that we can emulate what Shamrock Rovers did two years ago or even go one better and get to the group stages.

“At some point, someone has got to break through the barrier. Why not us this year? I really believe that.

It was a great time (last season) when you think about it. The celebrations were rightly long into the night but that’s gone now… let’s look forward to this season.

“We’re going to add to that and not rest on our laurels. We want to win every competition that we enter – and that includes the Champions League.

“I do believe that the league is not going to be between two clubs this year. I think that 7 or 8 clubs will have a say in where the title will go. It’s great having clubs like Limerick and Cork from all over the country but we’ll be looking to keep the trophies in the West of Ireland.”

Getting used to life in the Airtricity League has also meant dealing with potentially losing several stars at the end of the season as most players are tied down to short-term contracts.

“It’s quite scary when you take over and find you that everyone is on 40 week contracts and you could lose 18 players after building so hard throughout the season. And all of a sudden that could be broken up because players have the freedom to move wherever they want.

“There is the added fact that you’ve got to come to the West of Ireland. Two hours from Dublin seems massive in this country but I used to travel it to Scunthorpe from Leicester and it’s not that far at all.

“Importantly, I’ve got to bring players in that are hungry to do well and are keen to leave Sligo Rovers as a better player. If I can help them springboard- whether it’s to England or somewhere else in the world – it would give me great pleasure.”

Credit: INPHO/Donall Farmer

He has seen two cornerstones of last season's team - Jason McGuinness and PFAI Player of the Year Mark Quigley - depart for rivals Shamrock Rovers in recent months. The pair played integral roles in the league success last term but Baraclough doesn't see them as irreplaceable and believes the new arrivals can not just fill the void left but actually improve the squad as a whole.

"You’re always going to lose one or two. They had good seasons last year. Are they going to emulate that this year? I don’t know. We had to look after big Jason all through last season. He wasn’t really able to train a great deal so credit to him.

"Mark Quigley was spoken about as being one of the enigmas of the league and a great talent but is he going to reproduced that this year? I don’t know. That’s the magic of football.

I’ve brought players in that are possibly better than what we had last year. What can Aaron Greene or Anthony Elding coming into the league produce? An Evan McMillan, whose in full-time football for the first time. I think he’s blossomed in the last six weeks alone!

"I think we’ve brought the right players in at good ages who want to go forward and we’re certainly stronger than we were at this stage last year."

As Baraclough mention, in come Evan McMillan, one of Bohemians' top performers last season, former Leeds United striker Anthony Elding and ex-Crystal Palace midfielder Kieran Djilali (both from England) and Aaron Greene, who returns for his second spell at the club.

Initial signs that Sligo will continue where they left off in October have been promising. In their season opener, they put five unanswered goals past Glentoran at home on Monday night with newcomer Elding among the scorers.

First up this Friday night is a trip to the Brandwell where FAI Cup finalists Derry City await.

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