Liam hoping to buck cup trend
Fingal have fighting chance to upset favourites Sligo
WHEN you've played for your country, won league titles as a player and manager, won promotion as a manager, enjoyed success in Europe as a manager and played in one of the best leagues in Europe, there's not much left to achieve.
The football CV of Liam Buckley is one to be proud of. Played for Ireland, played against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, to name but a few. But there is one glaring omission on his record: after 30 years in the game as a player and coach, he has yet to win a cup medal, and the 49-year-old hopes that will all change in Tallaght Stadium tomorrow.
"I suppose I have done well in the league over the years, but it just never happened for me in the cups, for whatever reason," said Buckley, who played for clubs in Ireland (Shelbourne, Shamrock Rovers, St Pats and Sligo Rovers), Belgium (Waregem) and Switzerland (Montreux) before embarking on his managerial career with Athlone Town in 1998.
"I got to three finals and lost them all, got to a few semi-finals as well which I lost. The closest I came was in Belgium with Waregem, we won an equivalent of the League Cup, but that's about all.
"I would love to change that record tomorrow and win the cup, but being honest, it's not about me or my record, it's about this club and this group of players.
"We have put in so much hard work in getting here, from starting off from scratch, doing all the work to get a licence to get into the A Championship, getting into the First Division and now here we are, in the FAI Cup final and promoted to the Premier Division for next season.
"So it doesn't matter about my own record, I want to win this cup for the squad, the board and the people behind this club," added Buckley, who was today making the final preparation for tomorrow's cup final against Sligo Rovers.
In fairness to Buckley and the FAI Cup, he started as he meant to go on. He made his League of Ireland debut with Shelbourne back in 1978 but in his first three seasons in the league, his teams (Shels and Shamrock Rovers) were knocked out of the Cup at the first round stage.
There were further disappointments with Rovers (second round exits in 1982 and 1983) before Buckley's luck changed in 1984; Bucko scoring the winner against Shels in the semi-final and a triumph in the final against UCD appeared to be a formality for Rovers, who wereon the verge of winning the double. But UCD shocked the league champions by winning in a replay.
Sold to Belgian club Waregem in the summer of '84, Buckley spent the next five years on the continent, with Waregem and Racing Stantander, and came back to Ireland in 1989.
However, Bucko's luck in the FAI Cup didn't change, as he was with Rovers when they reached the final in 1991 but Buckley didn't play and the Hoops lost to Galway United.
More disappointment came in 1996, when his St Pats team lost to Shelbourne in the final, another let down in 1998 when as player/manager he led Athlone Town to the semi-final but lost. And yet more agony came in the 2002/03 season, when the Rovers side managed by Buckley lost out again, in the final against Derry City.
But many of the current Fingal squad do know how to win FAI Cups. Alan Kirby and Stephen Paisley picked up medals with Longford Town, Chris Konopka was sub keeper with Bohemians last season, while Gary O'Neill, Shaun Maher and John Frost have also played in finals.
Sligo lack that level of experience, and their cause for tomorrow's final -- the Bit O' Red's first since they beat Derry 15 years ago -- is hampered by the fact that captain and local hero Conor O'Grady is suspended.
But Sligo do come into the game as favourites, thanks to an astonishing end-of-season run. Rovers began to suffer in mid-season, around the time that they were competing in the Europa League, and at one point over the summer they somehow lost eight times in 10 league leagues.
But Paul Cook rebuilt his side mid-season and the arrival of new blood like Matt Blinkhorn, Joe Kendrick, Dean Marshall and Eoin Doyle saw Sligo turn their fortunes around: at one stage they went unbeaten in eight games in all competitions and, since August, they lost just twice in 18 outings.
And Sligo may just have the edge in tomorrow's final at Tallaght. O'Grady's leadership and experience -- he's still only 29 but this is his 13th season in League of Ireland football -- will be missed and they are also relying on young keeper Ciaran Kelly in place of the injured Richard Brush.
Fingal certainly know the way to goal and come into the game with players like Eamon Zayed in top form
But with the backing of their large support, and the leadership of players like Shaun Maher and Joe Kendrick, Sligo should be able to shade it on the day.