DCSIMG

Blue In The Face . . . with Brian McDonnell

AS revolutions go, the one concocted by Captain Valentine Strasser in Sierra Leone in 1992 was pretty bizarre. After Strasser and a few military friends seized control from General Joseph Momoh they immediately suspended the constitution, limited freedom of speech and enacted a rule-by-decree policy.

The army and police officers were granted unlimited powers of detention without charge and bizarrely Strasser intended to make the disco classic Ain't No Stopping Us Now the new national anthem.

You do that sort of thing when you are 25 years of age and the youngest head of state in the world. It goes without saying that Strasser's regime didn't last long.

Now we're not looking for something similar in Limerick, but something has got to give. Why? Because it's 26 years since Limerick claimed a senior international cap.

Steve Finnan

Before every man, woman and child starts jumping up and down in Janesboro roaring the name of Steve Finnan let me qualify the above assertion.

Steve is most certainly a Limerick man, but there's a problem. Steve's father Ollie was born in the Boro, but left the city during the late 60s and moved to London.

He returned home in the mid 1970s and it was during this period (1976) that Ollie and his wife Linda celebrated the birth of the youngest of three sons, Steve. Two years later the Finnan family moved to Chelmsford in England.

Therefore Steve never played competitively on Shannonside and as such he is not a product of Limerick football.

Johnny Walsh was the last Limerick man to earn a senior cap for the Republic in 1982 - 1982 imagine that.

A gifted midfielder, who won a league title with Limerick in 1980 and FAI Cup in 1982, played in a less than memorable 2-1 defeat to Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain on May 30 26 years ago.

Lee J. Lynch

The exploits of players like Regional United's Lee Jordan Lynch are regularly greeted with wild excitement.

Last week the 16-year-old, who was called into the Sean McCaffrey's Republic of Ireland under-17 squad a few weeks back, was sprung from the bench against Finland and transformed the game.

Ireland, struggling a little, led 1-0 at Buckley Park (Kilkenny) with 20 minutes or so remaining when Lee drilled a low shot past the Finish 'keeper and then repeated that trick with five minutes remaining when he buried another rasping effort to wrap up a 3-0 victory.

The under-17 side faced Finland twice in Kilkenny last week and second time out they managed to score six goals (6-1) against their Scandinavian counterparts. Even though Lee was outstanding first time out, he didn't start this time, but was once again introduced as a substitute. On the hour mark Lynch, only moments on the field of play, skinned his marker on the right wing and swung in a pin-point cross for Crumlin United's John Sullivan to head home.

It is truly wonderful to see this talented youngster involved in Sean McCaffrey's side. This bunch of under-17 players are as good as Ireland has seen in a while and right now they're building towards the upcoming UEFA Championship Elite Phase of qualifiers.

The clashes with Finland represented Ireland's final warm-up before they face into a qualifying pool which pits them against Germany on March 13 at Terryland Park (Galway), Greece two days later at Lissywoolen (Athlone) and finally Portugal on 18 March back at Terryland Park.

The margin for error in those qualifiers is minimal as only the winner of the pool will advance to the European Championship finals which are set to be staged in Turkey next May.

Lee Jordan provides Limerick with an uplifting story to tell and along with the likes of Jason Hughes and Pa Mullins also making an impression on the underage international stage there's every hope that at some stage Shannonside will break its duck and collect another senior international cap. But the question remains: why is it that such a soccer mad county has not produced a senior international in over a quarter of a century?

Logistically it's not all that complicated. In the Limerick District Schoolboys League, for instance, there are 12 under-16 teams - that's in and around 200 players getting regular games; a ridiculously low number. Therefore if that system can manage to produce one underage international per year, considering such small numbers, it's a bit of a miracle.

There are infinitely more players competing in lower age groups, but for one reason, or another, those numbers drop off as the adolescent years roll by. Every weekend gifted players, young men who treat the ball as a sleight-of-hand magician does the five of diamonds, are on show right across Limerick. Tragically though too many of those players are lost to the game or alternatively they lose interest in developing themselves as players.

Ask yourself how many times you have seen a gifted youngster turn into a common or garden variety junior player - watching some of these sad cases trying to trap a ball would remind you of a pantomime cow trying to free his foot from a bucket.

Mecca

The main problem is not social, although that is a major, major part of it. The main problem is that young footballers in Limerick do not have anything to aspire to.

Anyone who has ever kicked a ball in anger will have harboured dreams of making it to England while all along realising the impossible nature of that same dream. Players need something on their doorstep to aspire to, a Mecca.

Young rugby players have that 'Mecca' in Thomond Park; if you play rugby in Limerick you can aspire to great things. It's right there on the door step; a new 20,000-seater stadium; the Heineken Cup and rabid crowds.

Meanwhile the Limerick soccer fraternity is desperately crying out for a means of promoting their game.

Once the re-developed Thomond Park is complete it will, we presume, host the All Blacks, under-20 internationals, A internationals, international touring sides and so on. In stark contrast the last soccer international of note played in Limerick was an under-15 clash between Ireland and Scotland in 1990.

To add insult to injury the county's senior soccer side seem determined to add chapter after chapter to the book entitled "How Not to Run a Football Club" which started off as a slender paperback, but must now stretch to the size of a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica.

The cumulative effect is that young players in Limerick have absolutely nothing recognisable to aspire to and the end result is a shrug of shoulders and the all too common refrain "why bother?"

Hope

There is, thankfully, hope: the Regeneration Board's proposed development of a stadium at Cals Park.

Be in no doubt, but that development has to happen.

The regeneration of Limerick city has to be about more than knocking down houses. And, it has to be about building more than shiny new apartment complexes.

Limerick needs this new stadium. And, if it gets it the entire community's sense of itself could be transformed.

That new stadium would transform an entire generation's perception of their future in the game.

Think of it, a new stadium would make Limerick 37 an attractive proposition to play for and better still an attractive team to support.

Then young players would have a distinct vision of where they could see a career in the game leading them.

If a facility like the Cals Park development came on stream it would also allow the FAI to develop a centre of excellence in the city and thereby provide players with yet another step on the ladder to becoming a professional.

The Regeneration Board's plan to redevelop the city was launched to a trumpet blast of unshakeable optimism.

The master planners will deliver the ultimate plan for the city in June, but when those planners emerge from their deliberations, blinking in the sunlight, they must declare that finances will accommodate a new soccer stadium in Cals Park.

Nothing less will do.

 
 
 

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