Having started his career playing with his local team in Tubbercurry, Raff (as the fans like to call him), was their standout player over the years he played local underage football.
I had the privilege or misfortune to play against him on a number of occasions. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost but I remember looking at him at times and thinking, wow he’s got the ability to play football at a higher level, if not League of Ireland, then definitely the U.K.
It came as no shock so then when in 2000, Raff left the confines of Junior Sligo/Leitrim football to join Sligo Rovers, his local boyhood team.
“To play for your home town club is a privilege I never thought I’d get as a youngster, but to do so on the level I have done is the stuff dreams are made of. Getting to play in front of your family friends & fans from your home town is a feeling that will never leave me especially winning the league in 2012 in the Showgrounds, Roy of the rovers stuff.”
Between 2000 and 2005, Raff established himself as fan favourite, and would have been one of the first names on the Sligo Rovers team sheet.
In his first spell at the club Raff made 173 appearances and scored 17 goals, but in 2006 Raff went off to pastures new and signed for local rivals Galway United.
He made a total of 25 appearances for the Tribesmen and scored 5 goals. He was welcomed back to the Showgrounds for the 2007 season and stayed for two years making 107 appearances and scoring an impressive 28 goals for the Bit O’Red.
Cretaro was off on his travels again for the 2010 League of Ireland season. This time he signed for Dublin side Bohemians.
In his one season in Dublin he made 24 appearances and scored a measly one goal. In 2011 he was once again back with his home town club Sligo Rovers. He was part of the team that in 2012 won the league title and he helped the Bit O’Red win the FAI Cup the following season.
As it stands, Raff has made 191 appearances and has scored 36 goals in the last five seasons for Rovers.
This season he surpassed the record appearance and record goal scorer for Rovers. He finished the season on ten goals, joint top of the Rovers scoring chart with young Ireland international Kieran Sadlier.
For many fans Cretaro is Mr Sligo Rovers. Liverpool fans will say if you cut them they bleed Liverpool red, well I’ve no doubt that if you cut Raff (and I’m not suggesting anyone does that) you’ll find he bleeds Sligo Rovers.
Raff is one of those players alongside Gavin Peers who has been at Rovers for the good times as well as the bad times.
He played for the club when it was a part time club and there were only a die hard 200-300 fans attending the Showgrounds on a weekly basis to see Rovers play.
He has seen the club change from one of the worst grounds in the league facility wise to be one of the best clubs in the league.
He has seen players go on to bigger and better things like current Ireland captain Seamus Coleman, and has seen players come in, who for one reason or another haven’t settled at the club and have disappeared.
He is the player the younger fans will hang around to see after every game and he rarely disappoints them, signing autographs and posing for pictures with adoring fans often long after a game is done.
When Kieran Sadlier was announced as a Sligo Rovers player in January 2016 I will admit I knew very little about the ex Irish international.
I was sceptical as tp whether he would be able to adjust to the type of football that the League of Ireland offers up and would be another player who will spend a few months at the club and move on to become another League of Ireland journeyman.
Boy was I wrong. From the first time I saw him play i knew manager Dave Robertson had signed something special. That instead of moving around the league and becoming a journeyman, we would have to pull out all the stops to make sure that the board could keep Sadlier at the club for as long as possible.
Having started his career at Cambridge United, he moved to West Ham United in 2005. Having spent eight years at the Irons, Sadlier was released by them in February 2015, where he headed north to join up with Scottish side St Mirren.
Sadlier made eleven appearances for the Scottish side and scored one goal, which came in a 4-1 home victory over Kilmarnock on the 25th April 2015.
Having declined St Mirren manager Ian Murray’s offer to stay with the Scottish club, Sadlier moved back down south and joined Peterborough United on the 20th July 2015 after a successful trail period.
In the 2015/2016 season Sadlier only made the one appearance for The Posh, that being in a League Cup tie against Charlton Athletic before he was loaned out to Halifax Town in October 2015 for three months. Sadlier made ten appearances for The Shaymen, but failed to score a goal.
On the 11th January 2016 Sadlier for me made the best decision of his life, and joined Sligo Rovers.
He again linked up with Dave Robertson, the manager who brought him to Peterborough. While his contract was only for six months initially, Sadlier signed a long term deal with Rovers after only seven games at the Showgrounds which keeps him in Sligo until the end of the 2017 season.
He made his debut for the Bit O’Red in a 2-0 home defeat by Shamrock Rovers. After struggling to adapt to the hustle and bustle of the League of Ireland, he quickly armoured himself to fans of Rovers with his performances.
His ability to turn on a five pence coin and attack at lightning speed was something Rovers fans had missed at the club. He also wasn’t afraid to get stuck in at the back.
Sadlier finished this season joint top scorer for Sligo Rovers, on ten goals along with Raffaele Cretaro, and was instrumental in helping Rovers finish fifth in the league.
He has also played at various levels for Ireland from under-15s right up to under 21 making a total of eighteen appearances across all levels and scoring two goals, the first of which was on his debut for the Irish under 15 team against Northern Ireland. His only other goal for Ireland came in an Under-19 game.
After settling in to the League of Ireland last season, there will be a lot of expectation on Sadlier’s young shoulders next season.
He’s one of those players fans love to watch and young lads try to copy on the streets. My only concern for him is that come June next season he’ll be back off on his travels to England.
For me he has the ability to play at the top level in England. He can score goals, create goals and can defend too. He fits in to manager Dave Robertson system perfectly and his abilities on the ball gives those around him the confidence to get in to the box, knowing that any ball he delivers will be bang on target.
If he keeps up the level of performances from last season i can see no reason why he can’t follow in the footsteps of the likes of Dundalk trio Gary Rogers, Daryl Horgan, and Andy Boyle and receive a call up to the Ireland squad.
I know I’ll be making a bet with him for more than ten goals and assists for next season after he did both this season.
I’m hopeful that he has a long and rewarding career at Sligo Rovers, and as long as he doesn’t move off to join that other bunch in Tallaght, I for one will be wishing him well in his career, even if it doesn’t involve the Bit O’Red.
After nine months of action, the League of Ireland season drew to a close last weekend when runners up in the league Cork City beat Champions Dundalk to win the FAI Cup thanks to a goal from Irish under 21 international Sean Maguire in the 120th minute.
With no League of Ireland football now for a whole five months, for the first time this season I’ve have withdrawal symptoms during an international break.
The game at The Aviva Stadium, Ireland’s biggest soccer stadium, was a repeat fixture of last season’s cup final, though it was Dundalk who came out winners that day, winning the double in the process.
Cork manager John Caulfield will feel a wee bit of revenge after last season’s result. Now that the domestic season is over, Dundalk can now fully concentrate on continuing their good form in this season’s Europa League.
For those of you who don’t know, Dundalk currently sit joint second in their group after suffering back to back defeats to Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg.
This season saw a lot of action, and Dundalk certainly captured the hearts and minds of a lot of League of Ireland fans with their exploits in Europe.
The season itself saw many controversies such as the €5000 “present” from the FAI to each League of Ireland club, which was swiftly handed back to them by both Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic, with the latter questioning the timing and the reasoning for the payout.
“What prevails with the FAI is an approach whereby it decides everything and where it dictates policy with the occasional PR flurry to try and create a public image that its senior executives are committed to change and to improvement.”
Also in the First Division, struggling Athlone Town were issued with a fine of their own (€5000 with €4000 suspended) after internal problems meant they were unable to field a team against Waterford United .
The league started in 2016 with opening day wins for Dundalk, Longford Town, Finn Harps, Shamrock Rovers, Cork City and Galway United in the Premier Division.
For many it was an early indication that Dundalk would start this season like they finished last season, sitting pretty at the top of the table with Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic fighting it out for the other European positions.
Dundalk had done some great business over the close season, managing to hold on to their star players who had helped them win the double in 2015.
The only player of note to leave Dundalk was Richie Towell who like many top League of Ireland footballers moved across the Irish Sea to try his luck with Brighton and Hove Albion. To date the former Dundalk star hasn’t played at all for the Championship side.
Dundalk manager brought in Patrick McEleney from Derry City to bolster Dundalk’s ranks.
Like Dundalk, Cork City brought in some top talent to bolster their team.
The most noticeable signing was ex Dundalk striker Sean Maguire who went on to be the league’s top scorer. Maguire’s move to Cork came back to haunt Dundalk after, as mentioned earlier, his winner in the 120th minute allowed Cork to win the FAI Cup.
Dundalk were the team to beat as they cruised to early victories over the majority of the League of Ireland teams in the opening round of games.
Cork matched them along the way but invariably dropped crucial points to Derry City, Sligo Rovers, and Wexford Youths.
As Cork were dropping points, Derry City we’re picking them up, defying the expectations of many of their fans. For a good part of the season they were challenging both Cork City and Dundalk for top spot, while enjoying impressive wins over the likes of Cork City and Shamrock Rovers early in the season.
After the first round of games Dundalk sat top of the table with Cork City, Shamrock Rovers, St Patricks Athletic and Derry City making up the top five.
The season then went on its mid-season interval which allowed teams take a well deserved rest and regroup.
It also allowed those teams playing in Europe to be ready to face whatever opposition that came before them. And as we all know now the only team to survive the rigours of Europe this season in the League of Ireland are Dundalk.
They came agonisingly close to getting through to the group stages of the Champions League, which would have created a bit of history as they would have been the first ever Irish team to make it in to the group sages of the competition.
The second round of games kicked off and only two teams in the top five won. Dundalk beat St Patricks Athletic, and Derry City beat Wexford Youths, while Cork City and Shamrock Rovers played out a bore draw in Turners Cross.
With the top of the table already setting itself up, and the majority of clubs already out of the running for Europe, for fans that had no interest in Europe the bottom half of the table was were all the action was
As expected last season’s First Division champions Wexford Youths were struggling with the demands of playing Premier Division football.
Throughout the whole season they only won six games, with the most memorable of them being coming against Shamrock Rovers in round one where, at Ferrycarrig Park, they beat the Tallaght side two nil thanks to goals from Andy Mulligan and Chris Kenny.
Sadly for Youths and their manager Shane Keegan, that was as good as it got throughout the season.
The other team who struggled this season was Longford Town which for me was a surprise because, after coming up to the Premier Division for the 2015 season, they looked at home with the big boys.
But like so many before them they suffered second season syndrome, and were relegated after winning only two games all season.
Other teams that found themselves lurking around the relegation/playoff spot were Finn Harps (who had come up through the relegation/playoff games last season), Galway United, and Bray Wanderers.
As it turned out, with a few weeks to go in the season there was only one team who would occupy the relegation/playoff spot and that was Wexford Youths.
Another disappointment for Youths was the fact that they didn’t break the 1000 fan barrier for any of their league matches. I can’t help but think that may have something to do with their owner. That’s one for Google folks…
Speaking of the graveyard that is the First Division, it was clear to all who follow the League of Ireland that there was only ever going to be one winner of that title, and that would be relegated Limerick FC.
After relegation last season they managed to hold on to the majority of their players and add a few quality signings like Aaron Greene and Paul O Connor. As it turned out it was the latter who scored the goal which won Limerick the First Division title.
Such was Limerick’s dominance in the First Division that after six games Limerick had won six, and had left every other club in the second tier of Irish football with a negative goal difference.
Dundalk’s third league title in a row see them qualify for the Champions League again next year, while Cork City’s second placed finish give them the all-important first Europa League spot.
Derry City, the surprise team of the year, finished third and take the last remaining automatic Europa League spot in the league.
Cork City’s FAI Cup win meant that the European place for the cup winners goes to the next best team in the league, who were Shamrock Rovers in fourth place.
The only business to tie up now, is the relegation/promotion playoff between Wexford Youths and Drogheda United.
The first game finished two nil to the Premier Division side and everyone expected them to go on and finish the job in Drogheda.
But it was Drogheda who booked their place back in the Premier Division by completely blowing Wexford off the park, winning three nil, making it three two on aggregate.
The heartbreak suffered by the Drogs fans the year before was forgotten, and there wasn’t a cow milked in Drogheda for a few days after that win!
I suppose it’s about time I went with the usual end of season awards.
For me personally I’ve seen a lot of great goals scored this year at the Showgrounds from players like Raffaele Cretaro and Kieran Sadlier, but this award goes to Kurtis Byrne of Bohemians who showed perfect technique to twist and send a right foot screamer into the top corner of the Dundalk net, all while running away from goal.
Manager of the year is a throw up between Harry Kenny of Bray Wanderers, or Kenny Shiels of Derry City. Thanks to their league position it’s Shiels who gets it.
For me though the most entertainment this season came at the abandoned Sligo Rovers, Finn Harps game at the Showgrounds.
For once I was early for the game and as I sat in the press box I could see there was no way that the game was going to be played.
The puddles on the pitch were so deep that I could have done the breast stroke in them. But alas the referee that night had other intentions and allowed the game to go ahead.
But with twenty minutes of the game gone he changed his mind and called it off.
As he went to speak to the FAI official at the game, who was around the home dugout at the time, over stormed Finn Harps boss Ollie Horgan to rant and rave about been left out of the loop.
I don’t think the loop was fully finished at that stage, that was after he had a go at Rovers captain Gavin Peers who, as he was leaving the pitch, kindly told him to f*** off.
In all my time reporting at games I had never seen anything like it.
I’ll not mention the scumbag behaviour of the Shamrock Rovers fans at the Showgrounds at game day one.
Nor will i mention the scumbag Shamrock Rovers players who left the away dressing room at the Showgrounds in such a state that you would swear it was a team of five year olds who were in there, not a bunch of supposed professional footballers.
So its five months of no League of Ireland football now for me, five months of pining to get back to the Showgrounds to watch my team next season.
As was said to me by a Burnley coach when I relayed these thoughts to him: “sure, you’ve always Liverpool to tide you over,” but for me there’s no place like the Showgrounds and there’s no team like Sligo Rovers.
His reply to that was “yeah mate i know.”
I’m hoping our manager, Dave Robertson, can bring in the players that will allow us to challenge for Europe next season, and hopefully I’ll be writing about Sligo Rovers winning the title ending the Dundalk grip on that particular trophy.
We can always live in hope.
Until next time, thanks for reading this, and remember there are twenty teams in the League of Ireland, and each and every one of them would love some support from far away fans.
Why do the media find it so difficult to differentiate between players and managers?
Just because you had a good playing career doesn’t mean you’ll make a good manager, and vice versa, yet we continuously hear about why the likes of Ryan Giggs deserves a Premier League job.
I think it’s very easy for the media and people within it to “want” someone to do well, and try to push the agenda to get them into a job where they then get some access inside the club and regular sound bites to fill time with content people are interested in.
It may be easier to get people to listen/read about Ryan Giggs getting a job than say, Mick Beale, who may be interested in a management role in the future and has years of experience in coaching and player development, which are really the main aspects of being a coach at all levels.
Then there’s the other side where people can’t really pick out who might do a good job, or who may actually deserve a management job, so a big name ex-player is easy to mention.
I saw the Man United U21 manager was linked with the Wigan job—that’s not a job for a first time head coach, so the current U21 manager who has proved he is a good coach, possibly a good strategist, and will be able to identify younger players to buy or loan, might be better than a guy who has been in one club at a different level all his career, then assistant manager.
You could have lots of people – journalists like Rafa Honigstein, Graham Hunter, and others, who are excellent and understand the game to a high level while also providing depth and context to the points they make.
If you’re a producer and a no-name flops, it’s on you. If it’s a star name who’s just finished playing, then it absolves all blame onto the pundit.
My old producer RK Sreenivasan took a punt on me, and I feel like I did a good job for him for risking himself to keep me on when it was much easier to replace me with an established name and no risk for him.
Why is there seemingly a taboo around talking about tactics on mainstream TV? They skirt around it but fail to really give an analysis that the viewer wants. Do you think it’s because these channels think the average Joe isn’t interested in it or is it because their pundits and hosts don’t have the required knowledge to talk about it confidently?
There are two parts to it.
Most TV stations backroom staff have a lot of background stuff; making the rundown, video packages, interviews, graphics, taking points etc. which all are priorities as you need generic chat. Still you can give depth and insight, but most won’t.
The second part is that most guys in the background aren’t tactical experts, and unless the pundit goes in early or wants to discuss tactical things, then they get left out.
You’ll have a couple of guys who will see patterns or possible highlight clips to speak about and make graphics: Sturridge & Suarez linking up, Liverpool running after and winning the ball, or individual stuff like Silva/Ozil/Sanchez doing good things.
Most of the time it’s not made by or even looked at pre-show by people who must talk about it, so they ‘say what they see’.
If you watch say, Match Of The Day, you can see they’ll do a wee bit of analysis. If the pundit has created it, they won’t talk over it, they’ll give depth as to why things happened while the clip is ongoing.
If it’s a live game and there’s real in depth tactical chat, it’s probably come from the pundit who said to the anchor/producer/runner to pull up clips and edit them.
For 15 minutes of TV you have 6-9 minutes of airtime, so maybe 90 seconds of in depth stuff available. Pre and post match is where the good stuff will be.
BT seem to want to go down the in-depth route with the questions the anchor asks, but not all pundits are like Gary Neville and can break things down. That said, it’s not that hard if you have the right people involved who specialise in it.
If you could change one thing about punditry in Britain what would it be?
That all names and past experiences of football are made anonymous, then producers have to find the most interesting people.
Also, people don’t always consider this, but punditry and WWE are similar—you need to provoke reactions to get over what you said and have people discuss it.
For example, Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton are like “heels” to wind people up. They say daft things or slate people to be controversial, or say really stupid things with no evidence just to cause a talking point.
Gary Neville or Lee Dixon would be examples of a “face“, a good guy. Everyone will listen to as they offer balanced insight.
Then you have some guys like Danny Murphy who are in-between, just sounding grumpy, and then you have others who have no real presence on screen who won’t be at the front and won’t last.
Do you think if the media started to embrace tactics and start to give it the exposure it deserves that it would have an impact on football in Britain?
Yes! Public perception would change, coaching at grassroots and overall football discussion would change.
People quote Talksport/MOTD or whatever they listened to. If it was in print, on TV, and a real public presence, then it would be easy to run with long term.
Monday Night Football and MindGame have shown the market is no longer niche. The mentality of the younger generation is to find knowledge and football media hasn’t yet embraced it.
It’s still aimed at old skool viewers spoken to by guys who played 15-30 years ago who will tell you about muddy fields, passion, desire and work ethic when the game isn’t like that any more, and it’s not something they’ve studied to be able to speak about.
Anyone in America with access to the internet or television that possesses even a mild interest in soccer knows the name Christian Pulisic.
“17-year-old kid from Hershey, Pennsylvania” is a mainstay phrase for commentators and pundits whose beat revolves around the U.S. Men’s National Team – or, for that matter, American coverage of the German top-flight, the Bundesliga.
Everyone, everyone is talking about the legacy of rising star Pulisic.
Just…just hold on.
The most polished 17-year-old in the history of American soccer
Undoubtedly, the American attacking midfielder has the footballing qualities required to be a good player, even a great one. His quick feet and intelligent running patterns allow him to get in behind even the best “match-reading” defenders. His creativity knows few bounds as Pulisic reads both the development of play and player movements – for both his side and the opposition – very well.
Pace is considered overrated at times, but Pulisic uses his wisely. He times his runs well and uses a start-stop bursting of his speed and acceleration to glide between other players. Pulisic finishes off counter-attacks superbly; he maintains possession well with simple passing and calculated movement. He has a flair to his game that is both sexy and dangerous, depending on which side of the ball one stands.
He has practiced weighted passing since he was five years old. Pulisic has learned how to use his body to his advantage, despite his size, since he stopped getting taller three or four years ago. He, through the coaches over Pulisic throughout his youth career in the United States, has learned how to take on and dribble past opponents faster, taller, stronger than he is.
During his training in the States, his parents, Mark and Kelley, encouraged Pulisic playing in higher-age divisions. From age ten onward, their son was always registered to play one or two age groups higher than his own. Bill Belcher, a family friend and head coach of Harrisburg City Islanders in the United Soccer Leagues, would invite 14-year-old Pulisic to train with his squad of adults as a guest.
Pulisic quickly ramped up the level of competition at age fifteen, jumping right into the fray of the Borussia Dortmund U17 squad. The rest, of course, is recent history, provided in a sequence of skills and highlights YouTube videos that follow someone else bringing up the “savior” of U.S. soccer.
Pulisic might be U.S. Soccer’s best young talent ever.
But what is a savior in football? What must be done to qualify? The term is used both broadly and gratuitously, so it can be hard to parse what kind of savior American fans are referring to.
Sometimes, it has very little meaning, or simply pertains to a singular instance. Mario Balotelli has been called the savior of OGC Nice in their high-flying, table-topping start to the 2016-2017 season. Ashley Barnes, aging English forward for Burnley who’s struggling for Premier League minutes, was hailed as a savior of three points with his last ditch scramble goal at the weekend. This writer was once considered a savior for a classmate in high school for letting someone look at his essay before they took the same test later in the day.
Savior can be as meaningless at times as the adjectives “amazing” and “incredible,” which have been ridden of substance by modern-day language.
But there’s another definition – one more impactful, long-lasting, and, for better or worse, consequential.
In American soccer, “savior” has been attached to a selection of players over the course of the last two decades that had the perceived ability to put the United States on the world stage. For some, their importance is clear for all to see – the likes of Landon Donovan and Brian McBride, for instance, are revered for their goal scoring prowess in times of desperation for the Men’s National Team. In periods of near-anonymity in world football, they are but two examples that kept the United States in the conversation of outsiders that could, potentially, drag their countries into relevance.
A slew of goalkeepers have also proven to be immense for U.S. soccer: Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, and, perhaps to a lesser degree, Marcus Hahnemann were solid for both club and country. Rarely fielding a solid defense, the USMNT have, until recent times, kept a first choice goalkeeper on the roster capable of pulling the country out of sticky situations. Even casual U.S. soccer watchers are able to reference Howard against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.
Something these players have in common is the massive clout granted to them by fans, either from an early age or early in their international careers. After some diminutive performances in 2001 during World Cup qualification, Donovan played a key part in getting out of the group stages of the tournament in 2002. McBride scored in his first appearance for the USMNT, and again shortly after in a less successful 1998 World Cup. Heroes from then on.
Pulisic is going to be the best player the U.S. has ever produced
This is the line that Christian Pulisic, 17-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania, toes in the eyes of American soccer supporters. Here lies the short, thus far unsubstantiated legacy of a kid lighting the footballing world on fire in the black-and-yellow of Borussia Dortmund.
Considering the forced comparability of Pulisic to figures like McBride and Donovan, there’s a discussion here that, to date, there’s been no willingness on behalf of American soccer fans to partake in.
How little is needed in American soccer to become a hero, soccer’s Messiah – a savior?
Based on recent holders of the very same title attributed to Pulisic, very little indeed.
Donovan is the MLS top scorer, a post that will be held for at least a few more years. Clint Dempsey is the rugged, “by any means necessary” scorer of late World Cup goals while struggling to compete in Seattle. Jozy Altidore couldn’t cope in the Premier League, but plays well for Toronto. Jermaine Jones was briefly in conversation for Defender of the Year in the 2015 MLS season. Michael Bradley played in Italy once.
And yet, these players are revered in the United States. Not much to go by, which may seem harsh until they are compared to the 17-year-old kid from Hershey, Pennsylvania.
There have been moments, of course. The last-gasp 1-0 victory via Donovan against Algeria in South Africa. Howard’s brilliance against Belgium in 2014. Keller against Italy in 2006. The Yanks against Mexico and Portugal in 2002, as well as Slovenia in 2010. But these are moments – well-remembered, emotional, powerful, and in most cases, contextually meaningless.
Crashed out of the quarter-finals in South Korea. Unable to record a win in Germany. Scraped through the group stages in South Africa. Nearly kicked on in Brazil, but ultimately gave out in in the round of 16.
Christian Pulisic, for all his talent, promise, and expectation, cannot fix this. He’s drawing eyes from across Europe at Dortmund, but Pulisic can’t shift and dribble the Men’s National Team into a major final.
He’s already scored some international goals, but he can’t singlehandedly bring the United States silverware on the biggest stages by himself. He cannot right the ship for American coaching, training, development, or the systemic incongruences of the U.S Soccer Federation because he’s a 17-year-old kid from Hershey, Pennsylvania just enjoying his football.
Pulisic is, or at least he could be, the first, the uninhibited, the one to get the ball rolling for U.S. Soccer.