In the sporting world, the definition of a loyal supporter is someone who rallies behind the cause through thick and thin – or even thin and thin. How many of us in Limerick can say we fall into that category?
The Sporting Limerick brand conceived by the late Tim O’Brien is emblazoned across the jerseys of the county’s GAA heroes, and the love of sport is taken as a given in local life. And yet, there is plenty of evidence that when it comes to getting off the armchair and paying through the turnstiles, Limerick people make better supporters when they are getting behind a winning team. When the senior hurlers make an All-Ireland final, you won’t find a bigger or better bunch of supporters than Limerick people making the trip to Croker. Truly, they come out in their droves and will outnumber any other county’s faithful. When things aren’t going so well, you could park a collection of articulated lorries amid the empty spectator spaces at the Gaelic Grounds.
Switch codes to rugby and the drop-off in attendances at Thomond Park, with the Munster team no longer hitting the same heights as before, has been notable. But soccer is the code that really brings the credentials of the Limerick sports enthusiast into question.
To say that senior soccer in Limerick has had a chequered history would be a considerable understatement, but most readers will be old enough to remember those halcyon days of big attendances at the Markets Field and trophies being raised aloft on the streets of the city. In four weeks’ time, a new season will begin and Limerick FC will return to its spiritual home. The question being asked now is whether enough people will care to make the season a success – or even to make the team a viable proposition.
Administrative cutbacks made by Limerick FC chairman Pat O’Sullivan last week were unfortunate but hardly surprising, given the failure of local people to support their team to even a modest extent when they played their football at Thomond Park last season. Huge efforts and progressive strides have been made since Mr O’Sullivan came on the scene and the team deservedly took its place amongst the elite of Irish soccer. But the coming season has all the hallmarks of a make-or-break one.
To quote Field of Dreams, a movie beloved of sports fans – “If you build it, they will come.” But will they? After a lot of effort, senior soccer in Limerick has been rebuilt and brought back to a home that many feel it should never have left. The team deserves support in the momentous season that lies ahead. It would be nice to think that the people of Sporting Limerick will provide plenty of it.