By Alan Finn
Sligo Rovers fan base has a far reaching cachement area.
Supporters come from as far as Westport and Westmeath every second week to see their team in action.
Few are lucky to not only be able to see the team from their bedroom window, but to have also carved out a career with them.
This was the case for Conor O’Grady, whose love for The Bit O’Red sprung to life upon his family’s decision to move to the Maugheraboy area.
“I lived a good part of my life across from The Showgrounds in Rose Hill. We moved here from the Circular Road when I was six and that was really my first introduction to football in an area steeped in it because you have Rovers, you have Merville United and there was a lot of kids in places like Treacy Avenue, Oakfield, Cedar Drive and Jinks Avenue kicking ball from morning until night and I was fortunate to grow up playing with a very good Merville team.”
O’Grady’s first introduction came in the late 1980s. Though the club was enduring a difficult spell at the time, he found his affinity with Rovers was growing all the time.
“I started coming here in 1988. The team then wasn’t doing very well, they only ever seemed to beat E.M.F.A from Kilkenny, but my love for the club began there too. Fran Hitchcock, Rocky O’Brien and Pierce Walsh would have been the first Rovers players I loved watching, but of course the turning point for a lot of fans like myself then was the 1993-94 season.”
Like many fans of the day, O’Grady’s lasting enthusiasm for The Showgrounds was aided by his experiences of the legendary Shed.
“I had to be a Shed Head like all the other lads. Teams used to come out the side of it and it would be absolutely wedged and the opposing team would be getting pelters. The floodlights had just come in too which really brought the place to life, you looked forward to every second Saturday. I started going to away games, my first ever game was against Home Farm, I was in Athlone to see them win the First Division, I was ball boy for a few games too, it was just an unbelievable time to be a fan.”
While watching his heroes from the Shed, Conor was also honing his own skills across the road with Merville United, where his exploits were not going unnoticed.
“We won an U-16 title with Merville United and the next natural step was the Rovers U-18 team, they were managed by Glen Young and John Lynch. Most young lads dream would have been to play with Liverpool or Man United or Celtic, but I always dreamed of playing for the team I grew up watching across the road and this was my first opportunity to do that.”
For the full interview with Conor, see this week’s Sligo Weekender newspaper – in shops now!
Alternatively, you can purchase an online edition here