Limerick continue to slouch towards Bethlehem, as they turn the corner into the biggest seven days of their season.
Another uninspiring performance away to Athlone, another late winner, another three points that comes with a faint sense of unease. Gaffney’s 88th minute strike again papers over some significant cracks. While it was an improvement over the totally out of sorts showing that Limerick put in against Salthill, it isn’t exactly encouraging. There is a bit of a reliance on Gaffney sometimes, as the quickest of the forward players, and he does have a habit of making a bigger impact on the game late on, as defenders tire. He is especially useful coming off the bench in the second half, which is what I suspect will happen in the Longford game.
Neither side played well, and on the basis of overall performance, Limerick might just have deserved the win. The result is of primary importance, with Longford having an easy enough game against SD Galway to get their campaign back into gear, and Waterford dropping points to Finn Harps.
So, Longford on Friday. They’ve brought in some decent attacking options during the transfer window and fought back against a slump with a first half blitz against SD Galway, but Limerick should be ready for them. The first home game against Longford this season was an utter horror show of nerves and lofted balls resulting in a disappointing loss, while the fixture in Flancare was one of the best performances of the season. It’s hard to call how Limerick will play, considering how poorly they have played at home in the big games this year.
If Scully picks his strongest team – Gamble and (a hopefully fit) O’Leary in the centre, Behan and Gaffney upfront (or perhaps Foley, with Gaffney sprung off the bench), the established defence and effective wing partners, Limerick should out do Longford. A patient passing game, focused on actual football and not the inane and ineffective long ball tactics that characterised some of Limerick’s worst performances this season, is required. A fallback to those tactics if and when Longford go in front would also be a disaster.
Limerick have the cushion of knowing that, bar an unlikely drubbing, they’re going to still be top of the table, but such thoughts are unhelpful as we enter the later stages of the season. A win, regardless of Waterford’s result against Mervue on Saturday, will leave Limerick six points clear with only eight games remaining. That would be an enviable position to be in. Limerick can do it. Primary focus of the bank holiday weekend has to be Longford of course, with the visit of Man City and the League Cup semi-final lagging far behind.
Athlone’s loss leads me to declare the First Division, past the top three, over as a contest, with 12 points separating Athlone and the promotion places, with Wexford an additional five points behind them. The bottom five are playing for positions of pride now, though that is not to say they are incapable of providing unpleasantly difficult challenges for Limerick, Longford or Waterford.
Higher up, the Sligo/St Pats confrontation was deferred due to the Dublin club’s European commitments, with both Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda winning to keep the pressure up. Amazingly, Drogs lie just a point off top spot, albeit having played a game less than Sligo. Having crashed out of Europe in poor circumstances, Shams at least have the condolence of knowing the right results in the next few weeks could see them jump back into title contention. Bohemians have, in a four game unbeaten streak, risen to within four points of that leading pack, and can now be legitimately considered a European place contender.
Notwithstanding another fixture reordering, some huge games coming up in the next few weeks. Drogheda travel to Sligo in the top of the table clash that could go a long way to determining the outcome of either clubs season this coming Saturday. Will Sligo solidity their lead, or will Drogs reach the summit? Then the following week Sligo travel to Shamrock Rovers for the first time since the defending champions fell 3-0 in Yeats country. One more week on and it’ll be Drogheda/Shamrock Rovers with Sligo/St Pats still to be rescheduled in-between all of them. Most of those games are going to be televised incidentally, so check them out if you can.