LIMERICK FC’s own version of The Great Escape has caught local attention in a way that could never have been predicted just a few short months ago.
An astounding 23 points from a possible 36 available has earned Martin Russell’s side a chance of staying in the top flight of the SSE Airtricity League.
By virtue of finishing second bottom of the Premier Division, Limerick play Donegal side Finn Harps in a two legged promotion/relegation playoff, and hold a 1-0 advantage going into tonight’s decider at Ballybofey.
The first game was played in front of a packed, excited Markets Field crowd on Monday night. Earlier that day there were amazing scenes at the Garryowen venue, as hundreds of fans queued for tickets.
No official attendance was announced on the night, but depending who you listen to, the crowd ranged from over 4,000 to more than 5,000 people.
This is a far cry from the 921 and 481 people that turned up at Jackman Park for Limerick FC’s defeat to Bohemians and draw with Longford Town in their opening two home fixtures of the season.
What has changed? Everything, but the return to the Markets Field has certainly been a contributory factor.
The official attendance for the opening game for Limerick’s return to the Markets Field was 2,308. In the next two home games the attendances were 1,452 and 650. The problem was that the team kept losing.
It looked like the team were so far adrift at the bottom of the league that all hope was lost.
Consecutive home wins against Sligo Rovers Bohemians at the beginning of August changed everything.
Although the number of people that viewed those two games combined only amounted to just over 1,800 people, it breathed life into the Super Blues’ season.
Limerick has always been a city that has rowed behind a sports team that fights for its life. An underdog. A team that reflects the city. Hardworking and honest. The Munster rugby team are a prime example of that attitude.
Now, the city has a soccer team that reflects the city and, my word, hasn’t it missed one.
Senior soccer in Limerick has been a poor relation for so many years it is hard to remember where and when it all went wrong. Until the recent revival, the club had been mediocre since the halcyon days of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The majority of local soccer fans believe it was the move from the Markets Field to Hogan Park that signalled the beginning of the decline, as the fans never flocked to the Rathbane venue.
A return to the spiritual home of Markets Field has no doubt made a massive difference.
If Limerick do stay up it will be an incalculable achievement for Martin Russell, his players and the club’s chairman Pat O’Sullivan. The latter has done Trojan work in bringing senior soccer back to Limerick sporting stage since he got involved in 2009.
He has major plans for the club and the Kirby O’Sullivan Sports Park in Bruff, which will act as a training base for the club on completion, is a reflection of that.
There is huge positivity around Limerick FC at the moment and the securing of Premier Division safety with a result at Finn Harps on Friday, could have a massive impact for Limerick as a city in the years to come.
Come on the lads!
‘Monday night was the like the old days at the Markets Field’
Staying in the top flight will mean everything for Limerick soccer – that’s the opinion of former Limerick trainer and current Director of Sport and Recreation at the University of Limerick, Dave Mahedy.
Mahedy was in charge of the physical conditioning of the team when Eoin Hand led Limerick to their second league title in 1980 and the FAI Cup in 1982.
“I think it’s great to see the positivity. It proves the fact that the Markets Field is the spiritual home of Limerick soccer. Monday night was the first time that I have seen a crowd at a soccer game like there was in the old days.”
Mike Aherne, a former Limerick FC player and current commentator for Limerick’s Live 95FM, has also underlined the positivity surrounding the club.
“To see how many people all over country and world were contacting us to cheer on Limerick just proves we are a sleeping giant,” Aherne said on his Facebook page.
Another former Limerick stalwart, Tony Fitzgerald, is delighted to see the change in the team’s fortunes around.
“I think that it’s very exciting. They are very talented players.
“It would be great for Limerick to have a good soccer team again.”
Dave Mahedy also highlighted that the sporting public of Limerick will always rally around a team that wins.
“What it really shows is that if the team is successful, there is a following and it’s in the right place in the Markets Field. Everyone can identify with that.”
“It’s vital that they stay up and that they can build on it. For the first time in maybe 20 or 30 years they have captured the imagination of Limerick soccer people and Limerick sports people in general.
“It’s great to see the support following Limerick now.”
Dave also thinks it won’t take much for Limerick to shoot up the division if they manage to stay up.
“They only need a few new players. If they can get that they could challenge to get into to the top four and into Europe. Then you are into a completely different league.”