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Hoops 'to end Sligo hoodoo'

SINCE Shamrock Rovers last visited the place way back in July, it's been a steady dose of Home Rule at the Showgrounds for Sligo Rovers.

But Hoops star Gary O'Neill believes that the reigning league champions have no reason to fear their trip west tonight as the two sides who are expected to challenge for all the honours this season clash for the first time.

Sligo ended last season with a stunning run of form that saw Paul Cook's side win two cups and finish in the top three in the league, the platform for those successes coming at home.

After Michael O'Neill's side took a 2-1 league win away from Sligo in mid-season, the Showgrounds installed the tightest defences possible as Cook's men went on to drop just two points from their following eight league games at home, a stunning record and an obstacle tonight for the Shams, as locals in Sligo insist on calling the league champions.

"Going to the Showgrounds is a real challenge as their fans will have the place packed out, but as a player these are the games you want to play in," says Rovers forward Gary O'Neill, who was very impressive on his debut for the Hoops last week as he played a huge part in their 3-1 win over Dundalk.

"As a player you don't fear that sort of atmosphere, you thrive on it.

"We had a great crowd of over five thousand for our home game last week, and it was a brilliant atmosphere. It can work the other way, if things aren't going your way the crowd can get on your back, but the Rovers supporters really got behind us last week even when we went a goal down against Dundalk.



GREAT

"You want to play in front of big crowds like Sligo away. Sligo are a very good side and had a great win in Derry last week so they'll be fired up for this one tonight.

"But we're not going there looking for a point, we're going to Sligo to win the game," he added.

"Sligo were a bogey side for a lot of clubs last season, not just Shamrock Rovers. I played against Sligo for Fingal last season and we had a real mixed bag of results. We beat Sligo in the Showgrounds, we drew with them twice and I think I scored twice against them last season.

"Over the last few years I seem to have scored a fair few goals against Sligo and I'd love to score again tonight," added O'Neill, who moved to Tallaght Stadium from Sporting Fingal in the off season.

O'Neill has made history this season by becoming the first man to play for six Dublin clubs in the League of Ireland, having won league titles at Bohemians and Shelbourne, won an FAI Cup with Fingal, played in Europe for St Pats and also lined out for Dublin City.

He's won his first major battle at Rovers by earning a place in the starting XI, though with players like Karl Sheppard waiting on the sidelines, he knows he can't afford to rest on his laurels, despite already establishing a tasty-looking partnership with Gary Twigg.

"There is huge pressure for places here at Rovers, it's really intense," said O'Neill.

"You need competition for places but that competition at our club now is unreal.

"You look at the squad last week, myself and Gary Twigg started up front but we also have Dean Kelly, Ciaran Kilduff and Karl Sheppard to come into the side, so I know one bad game and you could be out of the team, so it keeps me on my toes.



Unchanged

"Myself and Gary Twigg did well last week and long may it last. I didn't score against Dundalk but I helped set up some of the goals.

"If it means that Gary Twigg scores all the goals while I do the donkey work and we end up winning things, I don't care.

"I suppose it's happened a bit in my career, I'd never have scored all that many goals compared to other strikers but I'd set up plenty of them for people like Glen Crowe, Trevor Molloy, Mark Quigley and others, I don't really care who scores them as long as we win."

The Hoops can field an unchanged team if boss O'Neill wants to do that as the only absentees tonight -- Stephen O'Donnell and Craig Sives -- were also missing last week at home to Dundalk while Sligo have a full-strength squad to pick from.