Surivive this relegation battle and the sky is the limit for Limerick FC, writes Andrew Cunneen in this week’s column.
I hate hyperbole. I think it discredits sporting occasions more than it enhances them. This column will deal in facts though – not hyperbole. These next four games for Limerick FC are the most important they’ll have played in, in a generation. Let me explain why.
The insecurity and instability that has surrounded senior soccer for over two decades seems to have evaporated into the Garryowen air. The return of a home for senior soccer that isn’t, for once, completely detached from the fond memories of teams previous, ensures a consistency and a relatability for the generation gap to embrace. No longer are Limerick trying to appeal to certain target markets. Some people wouldn’t go to Thomond Park. Some people wouldn’t go to Jackman Park. All these loose ends are now tied up in the Markets Field. It’s central, it’s comfortable and above all else – it means something. Limerick FC have long been the senior representative of soccer in Limerick, but for an extended period, they were merely that – a representation. Now, they’re a football club with a fan base that understands its past, revels in its present and looks forward to its future.
Last week’s column addressed attendances. From that, we can deduct that there’s a loyalty and a passion for this club now. But what will become of Limerick if they’re to fall to the second tier after a three-year stay at the top table, where they’ve oft dined with the best and looked like an example to follow since their return to the Markets Field? The unknown, I suppose. The First Division itself is an unknown, and with the Conroy Report suggesting that the First Division become little more than a service station for the Premier Division, Limerick cannot afford to be relegated.
Relegation in football is common. Teams go down and they get over it. This football club would do the very same; I’ve no doubt. They would come again – but why should they have to? Pat O’Sullivan has always been keen to have corporate Limerick support the Club. He’s called for the public to support his product and they have answered. The potential is staggering. The enthusiasm is eye-opening and the positivity is almost over the top. That’s no bad thing. The Super Blues could sky rocket in the same fashion that Cork City did. Martin Russell has shown on both occasions where he’s had elements of quality in his squad that he can have them playing attractive, winning football. With a budget that would reflect the external corporate input and the projected support through the turnstiles, Limerick can become a force in this country. They just need to stay up.
Hundreds of nervous Limerick fans will make their way up the irritatingly incomplete motorway to Galway on Friday evening. All they can do is hope. I took in Galway’s game against Sligo last week in preparation for this column. There is nothing to fear. The logical result is an away win, but football doesn’t play by the rules. Newcastle West native Gary Shanahan will be running at a left back spot that has been vacated by Shane Tracy due to his suspension. Former Limerick player Sam Oji, who opted for Galway because he believed them to have a better squad than Limerick, will aim to stop goal-scoring sensation Vinny Faherty and ex-Limerick midfielder Dave O’Leary has the energy to cause Martin Russell’s men problems.
This is one game. There will be three more, but a win is a must in Galway. This football club has come further than many believed possible when the seemingly endless promises of a Markets Field return were broken time and time again.
Avoiding the drop here should finally get them to the next level after years of hurt.
Over to you, Mr. Russell and co.