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It's about building the team again and making Sligo an attractive team to watch - John Russell interview

Sun, Feb 17 2019

The Sligo Rovers managerial team of Liam Buckley with Dave Campbell and John Russell (right) Credit: John Doyle (ETPhotos)

Back at Sligo Rovers for a third stint, this time as Liam Buckley's assistant manager (although still registered as a player), John Russell speaks to extratime.ie about his career in football to date.

Representing Salthill Devon at youth level preceded the Moycullen native making the step up to senior duties with local League of Ireland outfit Galway United in 2003.

After three seasons at Terryland Park, the young midfielder took a break from football, only to re-sign for Tony Cousins’ side ahead of the upcoming 2007 campaign.

“I was studying for a degree in commerce at NUIG and coming into my final year,” sais Russell. “I struggled with injuries and just wanted to take time out. I had a problem with my groin, which could have been solved with an operation.

"I didn't want to do that and instead went through rehab. At that time, the medical side of things at League of Ireland clubs wouldn't have been great. I was young and didn't understand my body like I have in recent years.”

2010 witnessed the Galwegian signing for Paul Cook's Sligo Rovers, who captured that year's League  Cup and back-to-back FAI Cup successes (both of which were only secured following penalty shoot-outs).

“We had such a bond amongst that group of players … and belief. In 2010, we got suited up by a menswear company in Sligo and they gave us red shirts with white collars. Looking back, they were awful, but were given to us for the after-party.

"We won the League Cup that year, our first trophy as a group and going into the final, Shamrock Rovers had already won the league, were the top team, but we were convinced we were going to win. We were already thinking about the celebrations and that was just the mindset, albeit we only got over the line on penalties.

"The following year could have gone either way. Shelbourne were in the First Division, but had a good squad. The sending off changed the game, but when they went down to ten men, they battled really hard and we didn't play to our standards. We got a bit of fortune to get by, as Shelbourne were very unlucky.”

A change of scenery arrived in 2012 for the Connaught man, when he teamed up with Liam Buckley's St Patrick's Athletic and later became Dublin City University's first team coach.

The subsequent season brought the Premier Division title to Inchicore, but a surprise appointment led John back to the Showgrounds for his second spell.

“Coming off the back of winning the league in 2013, we had Champions League football to look forward to. I had another year to go on my contract, but applied for a job with the FAI, with an eye to my future, after football. I didn't think I'd get the position, but went to the interview and gave it my best shot.

"When I got it, I had to think beyond playing, so went back to Sligo, who were just after winning the FAI Cup and were still a good team competing at the top end of the table. It was difficult to leave Pat’s, but I had to consider my long-term prospects.”

Russell played for the Bit o’ Red until 2017, picking up the 2014 Setanta Sports Cup and enduring injuries the next season under Owen Heary along the way. Upon leaving, a new challenge arose, which saw John become Westport United manager for the upcoming Mayo Super League season.

“A really professionally run club, as the people on the committee are very forward thinking. When I went in there, it was a bit like going into the unknown, but they had some really good players and the set-up was as good as at League of Ireland clubs, from a training point of view.

"The plan was to stay there for a couple of seasons and develop as a coach and a manager. Towards the end of 2018, Liam Buckley was appointed as Sligo Rovers manager and he approached me to come in as assistant. "

It wasn't an easy decision, but football moves at a fast pace and the opportunity to work with Liam at Sligo, my former club, was too good to turn down. If I could pick a manager in Ireland to develop under, it would have been Liam.”

For the 2019 League of Ireland season, Russell believes Sligo will be better served in the long run by younger squad members, once they get to grips with the demands of top-flight football.

"I think it's going to be a year of transition. You have a new manager coming in, who will want to put across his philosophy and playing style. We have a lot of good young players at the club, who I would be aware of as regional officer in the area over the last number of years.

"In the last dozen or so years, Sligo probably haven't had a lot of young local players coming into the first team. It's going to be a challenge to get those players used to a certain brand of football and games under their belt. No doubt they have the ability, but just to get that match day experience.

"You don't get that without playing and making mistakes and that's part of the process. Liam has recruited really well from outside the league, but Sligo have to do that at the moment because it's very hard to attract the top players if you're not playing in Europe.

"So for the coming season, it's about building the team again and making Sligo an attractive team to watch and club to come to for other players.”