Due to the enforced suspension of football in these Islands due to the coronavirus, it has seen a rise in the number of features on all-time best XI’s for teams and debates over who was the greatest player and what was the greatest goal scored and so on. That got me thinking about my own club Sligo Rovers and the question of who is the best player I ever saw play for the Bit o’Red.
I have been fortunate in that most of the club’s success in terms of winning silverware has come during my time following them as a supporter, volunteer and employee. During my early days going to matches I remember the older supporters talking about the likes of Tony Fagan, Chris Rutherford, Paul McGee amongst others. But for me the first player who got my attention was Damien Dunleavy, he was a local player who was an exciting winger and ended up signing for Raith Rovers.
After that, it was Eddie Annand a real combative and energetic central midfielder who was part of the Rovers side that won the FAI Cup in 1994. Johnny Kenny was also in that team and like Dunleavy before him was a skilful winger from Sligo. When he was on the ball the Showgrounds used to come alive. He brought great excitement. I’ve always had a soft spot for a good local player.
During the club’s golden era of 2008 – 2014 we were spoilt for quality players – Danny Ventre, Danny North, Jason McGuinness, Alan Keane, Eoin Doyle, Padraig Amond, Romauld Boco, Raffaele Cretaro and so on. For me, there were two that stood just that class above – Richie Ryan and Joseph Ndo. Richie arrived halfway through the 2008 season from Royal Antwerp. It took him time to settle into the side and he came in bad need of a regular run of games.
But when he got going he was a joy to watch, he made everything look easy, such a smooth passer of the ball with great vision. I likened him to a metronome as he made the side tick. He’s still playing now with El Paso Locomotiv in the USL. Ndo arrived a few weeks into the 2010 season and was the missing link for the master alchemist Paul Cook. He was a joy to watch capable of such brilliance and he lifted the standards of every player around him.He has topped polls in recent weeks for being the all-time best player to have played in the League given his success not just with Rovers but also with Shelbourne and Bohemian FC.
It’s not hard to see why but I am going to go against the grain and pick Richie as the best I have ever seen to date and for me one of the reasons why comes from Joseph himself, he referred to Richie as a genius and there can be no higher praise than that.
A special mention for Gavin Peers because he would never stop going on about it if there wasn’t!!