Limerick supporters take up every available vantage point at the EA Sports Cup final in the Markets Field on Saturday
I want to start on a positive note, because it seems only fair. It feels very, very good to have important games of soccer back in Limerick. We've been so long without them, so to see town covered in Limerick FC gear is something to take pride in. But to progress, we must assess - and assess we will.
Well done to those who turned up to make the EA Sports Cup final a big occasion. Every single league game can be a big occasion if all of you go again. For an hour, many of us dreamed - but it wasn't to be. Let's figure out why.
I'd like to start off by saying that my heart went out to Shane Tracy. A Limerick local who this game would have meant more to than anyone. Sean Russell was selected ahead of him. This has been a running theme for most of the season. Sean Russell isn't a bad footballer, but Shane Tracy is a better one. Sean Russell didn't have a bad first half, but in the second half he was left exposed against the second best winger in the country. Tough call, but when it's a coin toss, Tracy is the more settled of the two in that back four. Wrong call, in my book.
Secondly, I feel like absolutely no lessons were learned from Limerick's defeat to St Pat's in the FAI Cup. On that occasion, Limerick flew out of the traps, dominated, and fell short because they tired and lost concentration. On this occasion, the exact same thing happened. I understand needing to press high early on to get the crowd involved, but the crowd don't win you football matches.
Limerick wasted most of their energy in the first half and left themselves wide open for Pat's to pick holes in. No Limerick player was particularly awful on the day, and this is why I'm frustrated. It was a collective drop-off and that has to be down to tactical application. Had Limerick managed their energy levels, and the clock, that bit better - they may be EA Sports Cup winners at this moment.
It gives us an insight into the team's weaknesses. Shane Duggan is the best ball-carrying midfielder in the country. Lee-J Lynch is right up there with him. Paul O'Conor's a genius in terms of positioning himself off the ball. Limerick are missing an anchor. A Greg Bolger type to break up play and snuff out attacks. This has to be top of Limerick's shopping list.
For now, it was a tough blow to take. But going forward, this city and this football club cannot accept being happy with second best. This is a full-time professional setup and results are required.
I look forward to next season to see just how much Limerick have learned. To me, they look miles off. I don't mean in terms of personnel, either. Everyone seems to think Limerick need five new starters. They don't. They need one or two and a different approach. Maybe my biggest criticism of players comes in the lack of defensive support that Russell/Tracy and Kelly receive. That needs to be adjusted. Both Paudie O'Connor and Robbie Williams were good on Saturday.
For the city, Saturday was good. But it can be a whole lot better.