St Patrick’s Athletic 2 Sligo Rovers 0
A sublime first league goal of the season from Greg Bolger, with top scorer Anto Flood adding a second, sealed the deal on a first Premier Division title in 14 years for St Patrick’s Athletic amid jubilant scenes at Richmond Park.
The win, which stretched their unbeaten run to 13 games in the league, was all the sweeter given it came against reigning champions Sligo Rovers who, 12 months to the day, had beaten St Patrick’s 3-2 at the Showgrounds to lift last year’s crown.
“Relieved, to some degree,” was St Pat’s manager Liam Buckley’s first comment on what was his second title as a manger.
“Obviously, over the last few weeks every game was a must-win game. We stuck to our principles and I was proud of the players as they put in another great shift.”
Asked if he felt pre-season his side had a realistic chance of winning it, Buckley added: “I felt we would be in the top three again.
“We had good players and brought in the likes of Conan Byrne and Killian Brennan. They are all great, not just as players but as people.
“I’m delighted for Garrett [owner, Kelleher], the board and all our sponsors.”
With President Michael D Higgins and Republic of Ireland interim manager Noel King in attendance, it was the reigning champions who started the better, creating two chances inside the opening five minutes.
Pat’s keeper Brendan Clarke did well to keep his eye on, and gather, an Alan Keane shot that took a deflection off Brennan.
Evan McMillan should then have done better than head straight into Clarke’s arms with a free header from Aaron Greene’s diagonal ball. Minutes later, Clarke fumbled a weak shot from Kieran Djilali as Sligo had clearly started the better.
That though was to change utterly by half-time.
A first real sniff of goal for Pat’s came on 13 minutes when Kavanagh sliced well wide after a miskicked clearance by Sligo keeper Gary Rogers.
Having settled into the game, Pat’s then had their fans in raptures on 33 minutes when they took the lead with a stunning goal.
A weak headed clearance fell for Bolger some 25 yards out and the midfielder took a controlling touch before unleashing a cracking right-foot drive that flew into the corner of Rogers’ net for a wonderful first league goal of the season.
Rogers prevented a second home goal on 41 minutes, diving full stretch to push Brennan’s free-kick round a post.
But Pat’s duly doubled their lead a minute later. A terrific break down the right by John Russell resulted in his low cross giving Flood a simple tap-in.
In a less exhilarating second half, Sligo almost got back into it on 74 minutes, but Clarke did well to deny Keane and then David Cawley.
Fittingly, Bolger was then there to clear off the line six minutes form time in the final countdown to the ecstatic scenes that welcomed Alan Kelly’s final whistle.
“I shanked it, it was a mishit,” confessed Bolger of his spectacular goal. “I’m just delighted to win. I don’t know what to say. It’s been a long season.
“After getting battered by Rovers there were a few home truths told. But we’ve been the best team all year, most goals scored and least conceded. It’s my first league title and one I’ll remember.”
Sligo boss Ian Baraclough was magnanimous in defeat.
“Of course they are, most definitely” said Baraclough on whether St Pat’s are worthy champions. “They’ve been the most consistent team all season. The league table never lies.”
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Clarke; O’Brien, Kenna, Browne, Bermingham; Russell, Bolger, Brennan; Byrne, Flood (Fagan 77), Kavanagh (Forrester 70).
SLIGO ROVERS: Rogers; Keane, E. McMillan (Lynch 87), peers, Davoren; Cretaro (D McMillan 74), Cawley, Ventre, Greene; Djilali; North (Elding 63).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Cork).
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