NOT CONTENT WITH their lead at the top of Premier Division, Sligo Rovers have this week strengthened an already accomplished squad by acquiring a trio of promising young talent.
Ian Baraclough side sit three points clear of nearest rivals St Patrick’s Athletic with reigning champions Shamrock Rovers floundering a further four points back after last weekend’s Dublin derby humiliation at the hands of Bohemians.
The former Scunthorpe United boss arrived in the west of Ireland just a week before the season curtain-raiser back in March and was given little or no time to focus on recruitment but has since been working behind the scenes to bring fresh blood on board.
And in Ryan Connelly, Seamus Conneely and Jeff Henderson, he has persuaded a group of players with undoubted raw ability who are eager to impress having all been knocked back in one way or another by their respective English clubs, to buy into his masterplan.
23-year-old Conneely arrives to the Showgrounds with a considerable amount of League of Ireland experience already under his belt. Born in London before moving to Connemara as a child, Conneely played at Galway United for three seasons as a right-back (although he has since become a holding midfielder) before making a move to Sheffield United in January 2011.
16 months later, he found himself without a club after the Blades decided against extending his contract. That’s when Baraclough came knocking.
“After I was released at the end of the season, the manager rang me to ask if I’d be interested in joining,” he told TheScore yesterday. “I was about to go on holidays so took that time to think about it.
“When I returned, I was invited down to watch Sligo play Derry and was shown around the club. The atmosphere was brilliant.”
Despite the diappointment of being let go, he believes that he returns to the Airtricity League a stronger player.
I was only ever part-time with Galway so the experience was great. Obviously, I would have liked to had more of a chance in the first team but it wasn’t to be. We did win the reserve league under Chris Morgan though and I’m a better player for it.”
The Bit O’Red had tried once before to sign Conneely, during Paul Cook’s reign, but missed out. Now he has joined, the first priority is to regain his fitness. Having taken part in his first training session yesterday, Conneely was welcomed by a number of former team-mates including Iarfhlaith Davoren, Gary Rogers, Ross Gaynor, Alan Keane and Rafa Cretaro.
“It (fitness) is not where it needs to be. I’ll be looking to get that back then push for a place in the team. It’s going to be tough, but I came here to play and win medals.”
Another new arrival keen to get stuck into training is 20-year-old Henderson. The 6ft 1in defender signs on after his seven-year affiliation with boyhood club Newcastle United, where he progressed through the ranks and made a couple of apperances on the bench for the first team, came to an end two months ago.
After successfully coming through a month’s trial, Henderson was offered a deal and told SligoRovers.com that he is excited about the fresh start.
“I met the manager and, from the area, the surroundings and the facilities I knew straight away that I was interested. I looked at the ground and I see the development of the new stand and you can feel overall that the club is doing well.
“In England there was a lot of people that spoke highly about the League of Ireland and you would always come up against people who used to play there or had a connection.
“Obviously it will take some time to get up to speed but hopefully I can get into action as soon as possible.”
Castlebar-native Connelly makes up the trio and is just as impress.
The midfielder/striker was on the books at Derby County since 2007 but although the first two years went according to plan, a cruciate ligament injury in 2010 has stunted his devlopment.
A former room-mate of Ireland U21 international Jeff Hendrick, he has watched his fortunes go in the opposite direction to his friend’s, who saw plenty of action in the first team last term and won Young Player of the Year.
“This is a chance to prove myself and maybe use it as a stepping stone. The club got in touch with me and said they wanted me. I was very impressed with the set-up and the professional approach from the manager and everyone at the club.”