Season Review: Sligo Rovers

Johnny Kenny of Sligo Rovers in action during the Bit o' Red's 3-1 win over Bohemians at Dalymount Park on April 20, 2021.

Johnny Kenny was one of the star players for Rovers in 2021. Credit: Martin Doherty (ETPhotos)

Team: Sligo Rovers

Head Coach: Liam Buckley

Top Scorer: Johnny Kenny – 12 goals (11 in league, 1 in Europa Conference League)

Stadium: The Showgrounds

Highest Attendance: 2,000 (vs Bohemians, November 19th, 2021 – final game of the season)

Lowest Attendance: 0

Star Player: John Mahon

This was quite a difficult one, as there were any number of players who could have justifiably taken the gong of Rovers’ star man this season. Those outside of Sligo might think Johnny Kenny would easily pick up all the individual awards, but John Mahon is the winner here. The tough-tackling centre back shows maturity beyond his 22 years and was at the heart of a defence that conceded the second least amount of goals in the league this season (32 goals, just 4 behind Shamrock Rovers’ 28).

Already a fans favourite in the Showgrounds, Mahon’s game has risen to another level. After recovering from a horrific leg break against Athlone Town in pre-season almost two years ago, he has gone on to strike up a sensational partnership at the back with former attacking midfielder Garry Buckley.

 Scooping the Sligo Rovers Player of the Year award at the end of the season, there is no doubt that if Mahon carries his fine form into 2022, his name will be on more than just Sligo Rovers fans’ lips.

Best Young Player: Johnny Kenny

After being fast-tracked to the first team having scored 23 goals in 12 games for both Rovers’ U17 and U19 teams (aged just 17), it was clear that Johnny Kenny was a talented striker. But nobody expected him to impact the first team in the manner that he did in his first season as a professional footballer. Having admitted himself that a run in the first team at some point in the season was his objective, Kenny exceeded his own (and everyone else’s) expectations, by scoring 11 goals and getting one assist in the league.

With those goals crucial to Rovers securing European football for the second year in a row, it’s fair to say that the 18-year-old can feel hard done by after being overlooked for the PFAI Young Player of the Year award. However, he was rewarded for his efforts by winning the Sligo Rovers Young Player of the Year and penned an elusive three year deal in November.

With the Riverstown Rocket already attracting interest from the UK, the length of his new contract alone shows how highly regarded he is by Sligo Rovers. Be it in League of Ireland circles or further afield, Johnny Kenny’s name is certainly one to remember.

Best New Signing: Greg Bolger

There could only be one winner here. With honourable mentions going to Robbie McCourt and Walter Figueira, born-winner Greg Bolger takes the crown of Best New Signing. Having won leagues and cups aplenty with St Pat’s, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers, Bolger’s tenacity and composure in the middle of the park was something Rovers were lacking in recent years. This season, he brought them to the Showgrounds in spades.

Given the armband whenever club captain David Cawley wasn’t on the field, Bolger simply elevated Rovers to another level. Going into the final game of the season, analyst Conan Byrne noted that Rovers’ win percentage when Bolger played was 56%, in comparison to just 20% when he didn’t.

With Bolger committing to the Bit O’Red for the upcoming 2022 season, Rovers fans will be hoping he’ll be staying out of the referee’s book after picking up a league-high 14 yellow cards, as his presence on the pitch is a key component of Sligo Rovers’ success.

What We Expected Them To Do

Ahead of the 2021 season, the ExtraTime team predicted Sligo Rovers would finish fifth (see here).

What They Actually Did:

SSE Airtricity League

The Bit O’Red probably exceeded most people’s expectations by finishing in third place, their highest finish in the league since 2013. When they were in their pomp this season, they were juking it out at the top of the table with Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic. They even went into the mid-season break top of the league after beating Shamrock Rovers 1-0 in Tallaght Stadium, in what was the champions’ only loss at home in the league this season.

However, a terrible run of form after the break followed, with Rovers losing seven games in a row across all competitions. Despite the seven-game slump, the Bit O’Red never moved from third place in the table, and an upturn in form at the tail-end of the season meant a 3-0 win away to St Pat’s was enough to bring European football back to the Showgrounds for the second year in a row with two games to spare.


In one of the shocks of the first round, Rovers went out of the cup, losing 3-2 to then second-bottom of the First Division, Cork City, in the Showgrounds. Romeo Parkes (who has since departed) opened the scoring with a well-taken volley, but Beneoin O’Brien-Whitmarsh and a Dylan McGlade penalty fired the visitors ahead.

Although Parkes equalised, Dale Holland’s goal on 85 minutes sent the Bit O’Red tumbling out of the cup. A disappointing return for Rovers, who had made it as far as the semi-finals two years in a row before the 2021 season.


It was another disappointing showing for Sligo Rovers in Europe, as they went out in the First Qualifying Round of the new Europa Conference League, losing 3-1 on aggregate to Icelandic side, FH Hafnarfjourdour. The most frustrating aspect of this defeat was that FH showed on multiple occasions that they were there for the taking, but Rovers failed to give a good account of themselves in both the home and away ties.

Greg Bolger’s red card in the 78th minute of the first leg in Iceland was the tip of the iceberg, with former Dundalk striker Stevie Lennon scoring a few minutes later. Lennon was the master of Rovers’ demise in the Showgrounds too, grabbing a brace either side of half-time to seal FH’s progression to the next round.

Rovers pulled a goal back through a Johnny Kenny penalty six minutes from time, but it wasn’t enough, with this defeat adding to the Bit O’Red’s dismal record in European competition.

What They Need To Improve On For Next Year

Overall, the majority of Rovers fans will feel that it has been a good season, with a host of Academy players breaking in to the First Team, and European football secured for the second season running. The major low point of the season was undoubtedly the seven-game losing streak, which saw Rovers crash out of both Europe and the FAI Cup, as well as threaten their hold on the last European qualifying slot.

Areas of improvement would have to include a good run in the cup and getting beyond the first round of European qualifying. Sligo Rovers have excellent history in the Cup of late, winning it three times in four years between the 2010 and 2013 seasons, and as mentioned above, reaching the semi-finals in both 2019 and 2020. The FAI Cup Final is a special occasion, and there’s no doubt that the fans would love another day out in the Aviva Stadium.

As for Europe, this is a good chance for Liam Buckley’s young side to right the wrongs of last season. Rovers have not progressed from a First Round European Qualifier since 2015 (their last appearance in Europe), when they made light work of Lithuanian side FK Banga, beating them 4-0 in the Showgrounds. Some may say they were lucky to make it into Europe this year, but Rovers will certainly feel that they have been given a chance to put their best foot forward on the biggest stage, with fans hoping they will make it past the first round for the first time in seven seasons.

With the Europa Conference League on the horizon, and a number of key squad players tied down for next season and beyond, it’s safe to say there is a buzz around the Showgrounds. And with the new season just around the corner, there certainly is plenty for Sligo Rovers fans to be optimistic about going in to 2022.