THE last time Limerick FC won the League Cup in 2002, their current manager Martin Russell was coming towards the end of a distinguished playing career at St Patrick’s Athletic.
Russell has packed a lot in over his lifetime devoted to soccer, both as a player and manager. The years have blended together.
Ironically, Russell was a player at Saturday’s EA Sports Cup final opponents St Patrick’s Athletic 14 years ago when the Blues claimed their third League Cup success against Derry City at the Brandywell.
Limerick manager Russell joined Manchester United from renowned Dublin schoolboy nursery Belvedere in 1984, and he later played professionally for Birmingham, Norwich, Leicester, Scarborough and Middlesbrough before returning home in 1991 to play for Portadown and then St Patrick’s Athletic, winning league titles with both, before his retirement in 2003.
Former Republic of Ireland U-21 international Russell has been at St Pats as Assistant Manager twice, from 2003-2005 and again for a period in 2014. In between, he coached at UCD from 2006-2008 and then managed the club until 2013.
Russell said: “I didn’t really have a favourite League of Ireland team growing up as a kid.
“It was only when I came back from playing in England and after playing in the Irish League with Portadown that I was involved in the League of Ireland.
”Pat Dolan would have played with me at the Youths and he was in charge of St Pat’s at the time. I ended up playing for Pat’s for the last part of my football career.”
Russell is excited by the prospect of his recently crowned First Division championship-winning side putting their wits against a top Premier Division outfit like St Pat’s.
And of course the Blues will be itching to gain revenge for their FAI Cup exit at the hands of the Inchicore outfit earlier in the season.
Russell is enthused by the high level of advance ticket sales with the club predicting that the game will be a 4,300 capacity sell-out.
”It is great to see,” Russell said.
“It against shows the potential for growth that this football club has to have bigger and better football occasions in Limerick.
“It is there. It is just a question of fulfilling it and working towards it. This is another step getting the EA Sports Cup final down here.
“This, at the moment is the one we have, and we want to win it.
“Pat’s are justifiably the favourites on Saturday. They are the Premier League side, they are in the semi-finals of the FAI Cup.
“They have lads who have won leagues and Cups at the top level here.
“At this current moment we have got players there who have shown they deserve to be in that Premier League with St Pat’s.
“As a game we will try and go toe to toe and see how close we are to them.
“Hopefully for the supporters who turn out on the day we can play well enough to win this one.
“The players will want to do well for their friends and family who are turning out to support them this weekend as well as for themselves.
“That is not a bad pressure, so you just have to try and focus on playing well and seeing where it takes us.
“St Pat’s are favourites to win it. But if we can play well enough on the day, maybe we can do something about that.
“We managed to go to Derry for the semi-final and get a very good win up there. Not many teams in the Premier League have taken anything away from their trips to Derry.
“We managed to beat them that day. I think we gave St Pat’s a game at Richmond Park in the FAI Cup earlier in the season. We didn’t get the win, but I think we want to keep building on that.
“We are putting ourselves against one of the standard bearers.”
Limerick have scored 81 goals in the First Division this season and more than 100 in all competitions. However, the Blues have also conceded a goal a game in the league and Russell appreciates the need for rigid defending in Saturday’s showpiece final.
“We talked about it after we lost to St Pat’s in the FAI Cup. If you give up chances to them they will take them.
“There were a couple of areas we didn’t defend well that night in the FAI Cup and they made us pay.
“We will have to play well defensively, but we are also committed to trying to win the game. It is about getting that balance between doing too much offensively and not having enough cover and reaction to the transition.”