Former Cliftonville boss Gerard Lyttle loving life in Sligo
FROM Collooney to the endless beaches along Strandhill is a 10-minute drive.
It’s Gerard Lyttle’s quiet oasis a few nights a week. He’s only been a resident of Collooney a couple of months but he’s loving life in Yeats country.
If he could turn a few of Sligo’s draws into wins of late he’d be an even happier man.
It was in April he stunned Cliftonville fans by declaring he was moving to Sligo Rovers on a full-time contract.
“It’s been a real breath of fresh air,” says Lyttle, formerly of Celtic and Peterborough United.
“The Sligo supporters are real football people; it’s a real football community and they just want you to do so well.
“They’ve been disheartened by results earlier in the season so it was important to get the supporters back on our side. The people have been brilliant and they made me feel very well. They’ve made me feel at home.
“I’m based in wee town called Collooney. I’ll go into town, I’ll have a coffee and I’ll mix with the locals. It’s about 10 miles from Sligo and the folk there are brilliant. They’re stopping to talk to you and go out of their way to make you feel welcome.”
One of football’s axioms is that you never get a job when the team is performing well. If anything, staying with Cliftonville would have been an easier post than the one he’s assumed in the League of Ireland.
Dave Robertson, who led the Bit ‘O Red to fifth last season, paid with his job for a disastrous start to the new season.
Second from bottom and with a waifer-thin squad, Lyttle has tried to make the side hard to beat and have climbed two places in their bid for Premiership survival.
“The first thing I had to do when I came in was make us hard to beat and we’ve done that. But it’s about trying to get the balance and get the other side working better and trying to get goals. We’ve a small squad.
“We went to St Pat’s recently – you’re allowed seven players on the bench – and I had five and one was a ‘keeper, two were 18-year-olds and the other player wasn’t fit. So that’s how difficult it has been so far.”
Lyttle has had to rely heavily on 35-year-old club legend Raffaele Cretaro and recently signed ex-Rangers striker Rhys McCabe for goals this season.
“We’ve rarely had a day off because we’ve been working hard on the players’ fitness and sharpness and trying to create an identity for us: 'This is who we are – This is how we play.' We’ve played some of the top sides too.
“I think there is more patience in this league than in the north. I know when you play with one striker in the Irish League it’s frowned upon by some people, whereas here it’s the football mindset, supporters buy into it. They love the ball being played out from the back and the supporters love good football, they love attacking football. It’s not route one. It’s not back to front.
“I remember Jason McGuinness made the point when he was playing for Cliftonville in the Irish League that he never headed the ball more in his whole career because it’s just back to front, back to front.”
Lyttle has also enjoyed the tactical challenges he’s faced so far in the League of Ireland since he’s move at the end of April.
“Dundalk will play either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1; Cork’s the same – 4-3-3 but they’ll play it differently than Dundalk; they’ll play more direct.
“Galway play three at the back, so you’re always coming up against something different. Very rarely do you come up against teams that play 4-4-2. But I’ve enjoyed it and I’ll keep learning.”
He added: “The football is more controlled than the Irish League. Teams work on rotations and you can see that it’s full-time. That’s not talking down the league up north because there are some good players; it’s just the amount of time that you have with the players.”
Lyttle does not look back in anger following his Cliftonville departure.
There was a section of fans at Solitude that he was never destined to win over, but Lyttle says they didn’t play a part in him exiting the north Belfast.
He feels Cliftonville’s new manager Barry Gray has the nucleus of an excellent team and that the Reds should be pushing for honours in the new season.
“With Joe Gormley back and a few others added to the squad, I see no reason why Barry [Gray] can’t deliver silverware. There are very good players at the club and they can push on and be successful, and I wish the new manager all the best and hope he has success.”
Sitting in ninth spot, Sligo travel to Limerick this evening as they bid to create more daylight between themselves and the bottom three.