In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely previews Limerick’s National Football League final.
THE Limerick footballers will make the journey to Croke Park this weekend for a meeting with Offaly in the Division 4 League Final.
I would expect that Croke Park will have a very vacant look about it and while the players of both teams deserve their day in this stadium there is a good chance there will be more black birds watching than crowd.
I have so often praised the efforts of the footballers over the years and it would be rather fitting if they could win a trophy in Croke Park this weekend.
Many might be of the view that having won promotion they have achieved their goal but I tend to believe that they need to win this game against Offaly and by doing so build an even bigger spirit in the team as they prepare for the meeting against Cork in the championship.
This has been a very good league campaign for the footballers and it’s no surprise to me that they have done so well in this current league – in December I had the pleasure of climbing Carrantuohill with the team and it gave me a great insight into the mindset of many of the players.
I think many of the players will admit they too took a lot from that climb and within themselves they set the agenda for the year ahead.
Each player on the team has taken on the responsibility and in many ways we saw signs of it during the league.
Limerick were at this stage before – beating Waterford in the final in 2010.
The management and the players might not be saying so too loudly but deep down they will want to win this game with Offaly.
Limerick had the better of Offaly in Tullamore a few weeks ago but that will have no bearing on this game. Offaly have made progress – football in the county was at an all time low until new manager Emmet McDonnell took over.
McDonnell was a low key appointment but his work at colleges and club level has seen him earn the respect of all within the Offaly set up very quickly.
Offaly was always ranked amongst the great football counties but they have slipped badly in recent times. Manager after manager came and went and yet no foundation was left to build upon. McDonnell has wasted little time in laying a new foundation and for once all of the players are going in the same direction.
Limerick manager Maurice Horan knows only too well what’s facing the team on Saturday and he will have his charges well warned of what’s in store for them.
Horan has done very well with Limerick and now in the early days of his second term he is within touching distance of winning a national title.
Winning in Croke Park would set Limerick up for their meeting with Cork on May 25 at the Gaelic Grounds but for now Maurice Horan is focused on playing Offaly.
“The league went according to plan and for the best part we have got what we wanted most out of it. It helped develop some of the younger players and overall I was very pleased with the attitude of the lads. Offaly are a traditional county as far as football is concerned and I know they have put in a huge effort since last winter. We are going to Croke Park to win this game but if I’m honest it’s a step on the way to playing Cork. Offaly will bring a big challenge and I won’t be surprised to see them play a sweeper system. Our team has the quality to beat them if they can perform to their best on the evening. Yes, Offaly will make us work very hard for it, but deep down I see a great hunger in our lads”.
It’s hard to credit that Limerick have played more times in Croke Park over the past five years than Offaly, 2007 was the last time Offaly had such an honour and their team has changed so much since then.
Offaly have some class players and in attack, players like Niall McNamee and Ken Casey will pose a real threat if given space and time on the ball but overall the strength of their team has developed greatly since last year.
On paper I think Limerick has greater balance in their team and that could prove to be the crucial difference on the evening.
Limerick played Laois last week and this was a good workout in a bad evening for football. Limerick won the game but it was pleasing to see the work rate of the players, young and older, who are now challenging for places.
Offaly also played a challenge game last week where they lost to Leitrim but I would take little notice of this and pay more attention to a game they played against Tipperary where they produced some sparkling spells of football.
Limerick welcome back John Galvin for this game in Croke Park and it’s great to see the Croom man back playing at the highest level.
It hasn’t been an easy few years for him but it shows the metal of the man to keep returning when others might well have walked away. Galvin’s return to midfield will see someone missing out but it’s so important to have his presence around this vital area of the pitch.
This will be the fourth time Limerick will have played in Croke Park in recent years, winning only one of the previous three games.
A Limerick footballer doesn’t get too many opportunities to play on the biggest stage so when it happens it’s so important to grasp it with both hands.
Limerick is ready to make another step forward and I think they will have the better of Offaly this time round. I expect it to be a close game but if the Limerick forwards get the ball in space they have the talent to trouble the Offaly defence and for that reason I feel the Division 4 title will be coming back to Limerick.