Sligo Rovers’ manager Liam Buckley shared a pitch with Diego Maradona 40 years ago — and his crystal clear memory of the encounter is a testimony to the Argentina star’s brilliance.
Ahead of Sunday’s FAI Cup semi-final against Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium (2pm), Sligo Rovers manager Buckley recalled the speed and skill of the young tyro who would become one of the game’s greatest players.
“I did, yes, it was a League of Ireland selection back in 1980,” recalled Buckley of facing Maradona, who passed away on Wednesday afternoon aged 60.
“At the time, I didn’t know a huge amount about him, bar having heard his name being mentioned and he was supposed to be a very, very good player.
“In the match, he was fantastic. We lost 1-0 and he scored the goal.
“I can remember him going past one of our lads in the middle of the park, skipping to the edge of the box and he scored.
“He was a bit of a player then, but I didn’t know what sort of a career he would go on to have.
“That’s with great respect to your Peles, Cruyffs, and all these guys who were all top players.” Striker Buckley played in Spain for Racing Santander, a couple of years after Maradona moved from Barcelona to Napoli.
During a tempestuous two seasons in La Liga, Maradona suffered some roughhouse treatment from no-nonsense defenders and opponents.
“They had some tough tacklers there,” remembers Buckley.
“It’s well documented some of the fights, for want of a better word, he got into in some games.
“But he was kicked all over the place in a lot of matches.
“That said, he was a wonderful player.
“He had great balance, great technique.
“For a small guy he was built like a tank. He was very difficult to get close to.
“His technique was fantastic and he was so quick off the mark.
“He was a superstar. If I mention some of the top players from my era, he was the best of the lot of them.
“By a stretch, he was the best for me. If you said to me, pick him or your Ronaldos or Messis, all fantastic players. He was brilliant. I’d argue to put him ahead of them.”