Striker Danny North’s goals were instrumental in propelling Sligo Rovers towards their first League of Ireland title in 35 years this season but the Englishman’s team-bonding karaoke choice was less of an emphatic hit on the Emerald Isle!
The ex-Grimsby Town frontman had stormed to 15 league goals for the Bit O’Red by July but suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in the second leg of the Europa League second qualifying round match with Spartak Trnava of Slovakia. It was a potentially catastrophic setback for the team but Ian Baraclough’s side fought on in the closing months of the 2012 campaign and clinched the title after a dramatic joy-inducing 3-2 home win over St. Patrick’s Athletic in October. There is a lot to be said about how much Sligo’s first League of Ireland glory since 1977 meant to the club and the town’s people but as ever on here we start with music! Danny, 25, emerged in the professional game at his hometown club Grimsby and featured at Wembley in the 2008 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final defeat against Paul Ince’s MK Dons. He was no stranger to Irish football when he became a Sligo player last year, having been a frequent scorer for St. Patrick’s Athletic, but perhaps he made a dicey decision with what he saw as a relatively low-risk song choice on a team get-together!
“Since I’ve been here we’ve had a couple of team-bonding sessions and we’ve had the odd bit of karaoke. When I signed I played it quite safe with my song choice and went with the British national anthem, but I was getting booed and bread rolls thrown at me and all sorts from the lads!’’
It is most definitely understandable then that his other rendition was Ronan Keating’s ‘When You Say Nothing At All’, and two of Danny’s counterparts have also put in memorable vocal displays, with varying degrees of success!
“There’s been one or two, Ryan Connolly did an Eminem song and everyone rapped along, it was brilliant and got everyone going. Seamus Conneely did a heavy one, I think it was some gothic one, and was booed off!’’
At the Showgrounds and in the away dressing rooms that have hosted the Sligo players in recent times there have been some lively sound selections circulating including those of the Bit O’Red’s World Cup performer and African Cup of Nations winner. There has also been a midfield man who has tried his hand at following in the footsteps of fellow Haitians and one-time Fugees colleagues Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel.
“The captain Danny Ventre has been in charge of the tunes, after the games we have the odd Michael Jackson tune, also some dance, quite a lot of the harder stuff and some Scouse house. There’s also Richard Brush, one of our keepers, I think he’s into Slipknot, which I definitely reckon is weird!
“Joseph N’Do who played in a couple of World Cups with Cameroon brings some of his African music. Pascal Millien is actually an artist and has just brought an album out.
“It’s pretty much all French so he could be saying anything or slagging us off on it! His music’s been played on the Tannoy at the ground before.’’
The descriptions of Danny’s own musical preferences in a lot of ways are characterised by the era he grew up in and include his admission of once liking one renowned act that he would end up viewing live thanks to a link from within the club. The first band he mentioned though released a hugely successful 1995 album that was the first Danny ever had to himself, and although I am three years younger than Danny it was my first too, and one that used to wear out the batteries of my Sony Walkman!
“Growing up I was big into Oasis and the first CD I ever had was ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’. I’m not sure if I inherited it off my Dad but one way or another it found its way into my hands.
“I also like a lot of the 90s dance tunes that I remember my Mum listening to before she went out at the weekends. As I got older I liked Westlife, which probably not too many will admit!
“I like a good dance tune but Slipknot and that kind of heavy metal isn’t my cup of tea. I’m not into the proper gangster stuff, Eminem’s probably as far as I’ll go.
“I’ve only ever been to once concert and it was Westlife’s ‘Farewell’ tour. One of the lads (Colin Feehily) is (band member) Mark’s brother and he sorted us all out with tickets and we got to have a meal with the band and the families.’’
Danny made his professional debut as a 17-year-old in February 2005 in Grimsby’s League Two defeat at Bristol Rovers and eventually featured more prominently, netting a notable hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Barnet in April 2007. He hit double figures for the Mariners in the 2007/08 season, a campaign in which they would be losing finalists to MK Dons in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley. Danny played in that game but would find first-team opportunities much more difficult to come by in the next two seasons, eventually leaving in 2010. There is certainly a sense that much was gained in his time at Blundell Park though, both in a footballing and wider sense.
“There was definitely a good few memories – being from Grimsby and playing at Wembley was a big moment. My debut, my first goal (in a 4-3 win over Bristol Rovers in February 2007), I think I was top scorer one season which was nice.
“Regrets – if I could go back and do things differently I think I would. I was 19/20 and felt like I had the world at my feet and you can take it for granted.
“I think back and maybe there were a few moments here and there when I shouldn’t have gone out but at that age you don’t tend to think about it. When I ended up at Alfreton in non-league my career could have been over, that was definitely a shock to the system.
“(At Grimsby) I think there were lads who came in on loan that shouldn’t have and it was tough to take when they paid my contract up. I loved every minute of my time there though, barring the last season.’’
During Danny’s stay with his hometown side there was a young defender making his way up who has since gone on to become a regular in the Premier League with Norwich City. He recalls an interesting icebreaker of a moment for the player who has been capped at Under-21 level by England!
“I remember at Grimsby after we got to Wembley, Ryan Bennett was 18 at the time and no one had seen him out drinking before and he hadn’t really come out of his shell. We were in a club in Grimsby and Soulja Boy (‘Crank That (Soulja Boy)’) came on and there was a big space on the dancefloor with him in the middle going for it with the dance!
“I’m sure he went up in one or two of the lads’ estimations after that.’’
As Danny comes from Grimsby I wanted to get his perspective on what Sligo is like as a place and how it compares to his native surroundings back in Lincolnshire. To hear about this intimate Irish spot was also a source of intrigue for myself, coming from Buxton, Derbyshire in England!
“Sligo as a town is quite similar to Grimsby because you’ve got the coast and the beach, although I think it’s a bit nicer! I enjoy being around it, I’ve got my family here and they’re settled and to come to the west of Ireland and win the title in my first year and to be top scorer, everything’s fallen into place.’’
Sligo’s long-awaited title success this year saw them leave Drogheda United and St. Patrick’s Athletic behind in 2nd and 3rd respectively, as the Bit O’Red lost just three of their 30 league games to seal their passage to the second qualifying phase of the UEFA Champions League in 2013/14. It marked the idealistic climax to a story that has been anything but that for the club. The notion of a community coming together has been in perfect evidence and the Sligo people who have stuck by their club in the most testing of circumstances got their reward. Former Wolves midfielder and current Chesterfield manager Paul Cook had a considerable input in his five years at the helm before leaving for Accrington Stanley earlier in the year and he was replaced by one-time Scunthorpe United player and manager Ian Baraclough. The job was seen through by Baraclough and his players and Danny describes what he believes were the qualities that secured them the league.
“It’s basically a very talented team but even though loads of players say it I’ve never experienced such a close group, we all live in the same village. The manager put his stamp on things and then you’ve got the likes of Joseph N’Do who played with and against the best at two World Cups, he’s someone who’s great to have around and to speak to for advice.’’
With the throughput of players moving teams in the division in the past and the fact that Sligo had gone so long without winning the league until now there are question marks over how well-equipped they would be to defend their crown in 2013. Striker Mark Quigley was an incredibly significant part in the achievement, as was defender Jason McGuinness, and although both have left for Shamrock Rovers there are at present 13 Sligo players in place with three months until the new season. Danny acknowledges the departures but also outlines his reasons for anticipation and excitement next year, as well as how it felt to score so many Rovers goals and to then have to watch the team’s pursuit of silverware as an injured party.
“The two we’ve lost to Shamrock are two of the biggest you could ever lose but my reasons for optimism are, firstly that we’ve kept the majority of the squad together. We’ve got the best keeper in the league in Gary Rogers and also Joseph N’Do signed again.
“Personally I’m looking forward to being back fit, I obviously had a cracking start and so did the team. It seemed like nothing was going wrong, everything I hit was going in and I was buzzing.
“The injury took a while to sink in, I think it was three or four weeks before it hit me. I was still in the gym and around the place but I wasn’t really a part of it and I had my head down.
“When we won the league though my morale just went straight back up. I’ve started steady with the jogging lately and started picking the pace up, I’d say I’m a little bit ahead with the recovery but there’s no need to rush it with the season a few months away.’’
Historically, there have been a number of League of Ireland players who have made the move to the English game, with recent years’ examples including Sunderland’s James McClean, Everton’s Seamus Coleman (once of Sligo) and West Bromwich Albion’s Shane Long back in 2005. Danny cited two other examples including someone who is in the early stages of his career at my team Sheffield Wednesday, ex-UCD midfielder Paul Corry, who I discussed at length following his performance in the Yorkshire derby with Leeds United. Danny assesses the ability in the League of Ireland and describes the main differences he sees from life as a Football League player in England.
“This off-season the clubs have been giving two-year contracts whereas previously it was a merry-go-round for players. Enda Stevens went from Shamrock Rovers to Aston Villa and I don’t think he’s looked out of place against the likes of Man United and Man City.
“Paul Corry who’s gone to Sheffield Wednesday is a class act and he shows the promise and what the league’s about over here. There’s lads over here who’ve not played Football League in England but they’re talented.
“In Ireland there’s less publicity as a footballer with the rugby, the Gaelic football and the hurling for example, there’s not as much limelight but Sligo’s a football-mad town. People take chances on players if they see they’ve played in the Football League but I think it’s slightly unfair on the talent here that they don’t always get the opportunity in England.’’
As Danny continues on his comeback trail we finish the interview with the last question I always ask on the site, and one that may not be easy to answer but always gives an insight. Sticking to the usual format of the best four players he has ever worked with to play alongside him in a 5-a-side line-up, Danny opted for two from his time back home and a couple from the Bit O’Red!
“In goal I’d probably go for Gary Rogers. In defence I’d have Ryan Bennett.
“In midfield – Peter Sweeney and Joseph N’Do, and me up front.’’