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Saturday 18 November 2017

'We can't be here again next year'

St Pat’s Athletic manager Liam Buckley Photo: Sportsfile
St Pat’s Athletic manager Liam Buckley Photo: Sportsfile

There were no champagne corks popping up in Donegal to celebrate St Patrick's Athletic's feat of avoiding relegation with their draw away to Derry City.

No, their celebration was a lot more humble: just after the 1-1 draw Derry boss Kenny Shiels, in a nice gesture of solidarity with a fellow manager, handed Liam Buckley a plastic bag with some bottles of beer, for Buckley and his staff to relax with on the four-hour bus journey back to Dublin from Inishowen.

And Buckley admits that the challenge for him, his backroom team, his squad and his employers at Richmond Park is to make sure that the Saints are not in another relegation battle in 12 months' time.

Quickly

"We have celebrated stuff here at the club over the years which has been great - European games and whatever," says Buckley, his seven seasons at the Saints making him the longest-serving manager in the league.

"This is just a reminder how quickly that can change and you're in serious sh*te.

"On a personal level I don't like being where we were this year and I don't like us not playing better.

"So my ambition would be to make sure the team plays better next season. This year has been a little too hit and miss," adds Buckley.

"Certainly, from my end of it, I've probably not got the best out of the group we have this year.

"So over the whole thing, wondering what could be done better, obviously we don't want to be here next year."

Everyone at Pat's is aware that so much hinges on one man, and whether the club's main financial baker, Garrett Kelleher, will still be pumping money into the club next season.

Rival managers have already been building for 2018, with the likes of Bohemians, Dundalk, Cork City and Sligo Rovers all announcing new contracts for current players in recent days.

Some of the Pat's squad are signed up, like key striker Christy Fagan and influential midfielder Owen Garvan but fresh blood is needed as it was the mid-season arrival of players like Garvan and Killian Brennan, scorer of the goal which earned them that draw on the final day of the season away to Derry, which kept them up.

"I'll meet up with him this week and see where we go," Buckley says of Kelleher, the manager keen to ensure that the loyal Saints supporters are not put through another relegation battle.

"I have to say our fans have been very tolerant this year, bearing in mind expectations and whatever. They have been great, travelling abroad, down the country," says Buckley.

"Even last Friday, a few hundred of them have come here. They have been very tolerant this season, bearing in mind our form and the way we've played, because it's been up and down. I just don't want to be anywhere near here again, I'll be straight."

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