Greg Bolger keen to take leading role on and off the pitch at Sligo Rovers

Tough-tackling midfielder links up again with Liam Buckley at the Showgrounds

It’s hard not crack a smile as Greg Bolger hits full flow with his assessment of how football has changed over the course of his career so far. There’s a touch of “kids today” and “the game is gone” about it all but there’s a passion about it too that makes it pretty clear why Sligo Rovers boss Liam Buckley has brought him to the Showgrounds for the coming season.

The pair have worked together very successfully back in Inchicore and so the three-times title winner Bolger is getting a manager he knows believes in him while Buckley is getting a tough-tackling midfielder with everything it takes to lead both on the pitch and off it.

It represents a pretty decent addition for the manager as Sligo target another top four finish, a bit of progress in Europe and Buckley seeks to integrate what he believes is a talented group of young players into a senior squad that is at least as strong as the one that went on a remarkable run of results once last season got back under way in the summer.

The 32-year-old Bolger missed a good chunk of the truncated campaign at Shamrock Rovers with a bad injury, something that may have cost him the chance to sign a new contract with the champions. He has clearly dusted himself down and moved on as he prepares for the new campaign, adamant he is the same player he ever was and lamenting the fact that there aren’t a few more like him these days who get the opportunity to get an education in a school of at least slightly harder knocks.

“I’m 32 now,” he says, “but I have that drive, that will to win, to come into training that day. I would train every day even if there are niggles . . . it’s probably a pain in the ass for physios but I just want to do well.

“Liam was on to me and he wants to drive the lads on with my experience because I’ve played in good teams, good games and big games. Off the pitch, it is helping young lads, getting standards up, regardless of where we are . . . I think those type of characters are going out of the game at the minute.”

On his day, and he’s had more than his share of them, Bolger is a player who can exert massive influence on a game by stopping opponents playing, winning possession and getting his own side on to the front foot but he laments the fact that most young players will aspire to being further forward in what they’ll see as a more glamorous role.

“They all want to be number 10s,” he says, sounding just a little appalled. And in a development system based around academies, he reckons, a fair few of them are encouraged to be.

“When I was at UCD we had the 21s or 23s league and you played against the top professionals who didn’t play on a Friday,” he recalls. “I came up against Joseph Ndo, Jim Crawford – lads who had serious careers and I was 17 or 18.

“It benefits young lads coming in from schoolboy football and it really stood to me. Jim was at Shels and he kicked me head to toe but you learn so much. Lads can lose their way after 19s but that was a big factor for me, playing in that league against those lads. Danny Ventre up here, playing against him . . . nasty,” he says, and not in a critical way.

“It’s game management,” he continues, “knowing when to speed up or slow down a game. That is being lost in academy set-ups where it’s all about playing and your style and your philosophy. The lads coming up the last few years are all technically sound but game management is probably getting lost in the coaching manual.”

Sligo Rovers are getting a serious player for the new season and the club’s coaching manual, it seems, is getting the footballing equivalent of one of those inserts that arrives when publishers have left a chapter out.

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