Limerick FC face a crucial SSE Airtricity League Premier Division fixture at the Markets Field this Friday night, 7.45pm
If a week is a long time in football, then three years is a generation.
And, ironically, this up-and-coming generation that have been prematurely relied upon to save the face of a football club, won’t be treated to the same hype as Martin Russell’s were, in defeat, in 2015.
Limerick FC travel to Ballybofey tonight, just as they did a few seasons ago. It’s going to be the same preparation, the same road and the same tough slog against a disciplined, often heavy-handed Ollie Horgan side.
But for all the similarities, there’s a stark difference. People now understand that the top tier won’t be worse off without this current regime.
It’s very, very hard to stand out as an embarrassment in a league ironically labelled the ‘Greatest League in the World’ for its many quirky moments. Yet somehow, Limerick have managed to look more of a comedy act than Bray – and none of their dealings were particularly funny.
If Limerick is supporting the Blues tonight, it’s for the job Tommy Barrett has done and the nonsense he’s had to put up with rather than a thumbs-up for anything at board level. We’re frequently reminded how hard it is to fund a League of Ireland side. It’s the same line that’s wheeled out every time something goes wrong.
You don’t see well-run clubs, living within their means, complain. Limerick have overstretched and their reliance on the finance of Pat O’Sullivan was convenient if ill-advised.
The problem is that, without the hype, the unpredictability that comes with financial instability moves from being entertaining to tiring. If Limerick lived within their means, at least the public would know where they stand.
And for as long as the ad-hoc financial input has existed, Limerick FC and its ego has been boosted beyond its own relevance.
Now that the pipedream is over, the reality of senior soccer is hitting home. True, there’s huge potential for a club if it’s run correctly. The same can be said for Galway. Or Kilkenny. It’s an overly-obvious counterpoint that’s wheeled out time and time again to try and churn interest and optimism.
Tommy Barrett said at the start of the season that the playoff was likely their best outcome. The only team worse than them were a side who were feeling the pinch and repercussions of bad dealings and contractual confusion last season.
Given they’ve been the primary focus opposition-wise for an entire season, the Limerick public have a fine image of what a Limerick team in next year’s Premier Division could resemble. And all of a sudden, the high-stakes clash with Finn Harps doesn’t adopt the same significance the previous encounter held.
There may have been 500 Limerick fans in Donegal in 2015. I’d be surprised to see 100 tonight. Granted, Limerick had won seven of their 11 games going into the defeat to Harps back then and that brought about an increased interest – but that interest came off the back of more budgetary issues.
Limerick wouldn’t have been in that situation had Martin Russell not had his budget cut, then randomly increased, come July. This year, the Blues did it backwards: keeping Brendan Clarke, bringing in Mark O’Sullivan and Conor Clifford. All three left after complications with their wages.
Gary Shaw and Luke Byrne said their goodbyes to Shamrock Rovers fans yesterday on Twitter. Shamrock Rovers have informed players they won’t be at the club next year. They’ve absolutely identified their targets and have probably been speaking to them since July.
Limerick probably won’t know their budget for February in January.
Football has always been about the football. And it’s true that results determine crowds, income, potential and all the good stuff.
But it gets to a point where overachieving and underachieving is irrelevant when you can’t even define your own standards anymore.
Limerick’s division will be determined next week and you can bet your life the licensing process won’t interfere with that, no matter how outlandish the shortcomings.
It will be determined on the pitch.
But people’s scattered investment into the product on-field has been overtaken by a focus on the scattered investment off it.
The Limerick sporting public has finally grown sick of instability and it’s fitting that this has culminated in a man who epitomises the good in Limerick soccer overseeing a group of talented locals that could come short because of everything except themselves.