Limerick FC have a few problems right now, five games into the 2014 League of Ireland season. In no particular order:
The team is offensively impotent. Departures in the summer and injuries to the likes of Craig Curran have left the frontline looking extraordinarily bare, as an isolated Rory Gaffney receives long balls and spends his time holding the play up (when he’s not wasting those long throws). Limerick have scored three goals in six league games, one a fluke against Drogheda. The late arrival of cover in the form of Tam McManus and a general failure to replace that which was lost in the summer has left the ream relying on the midfield to score goals to too much of an extent.
In fact, not enough was done to replenish the team over the winter, after the likes of Joe Gamble and Dave O’Leary especially had left for other ventures. The result has been a first team that seems remarkably youthful in spots, with plenty of players lacking the experience to really make the proper impact. This policy also severely affected the hopes of the U-19 side, who struggled in the final games of their season, unable to bring a full substitutes bench to matches.
The Thomond Park pitch is an appalling surface for a game like football. Rugby, with the ball being carried, sees it as acceptable, but for Limerick FC’s purposes the pitch makes every ground pass an unpredictable lottery, severely stifling the ability for any team to play ball. The cancellation of the Cork game today, over this unsafe pitch, is the logical endpoint for this.
The departure of Malky Thomson from the assistant manager’s position, and the lengthy time it has taken to replace him with Anthony Fennelly, has probably not aided any effort to prepare properly for the new season. Thomson was a crucial part of the Taylor set-up during a relatively successful year in 2013; his absence is problematic, and has put more of a workload on Taylor’s shoulders.
And that isn’t working out well either. Taylor’s team, tactics and attitude this season have been troubling to say the least. Limerick are easily pressured when on the ball and unimaginative going forward. Long balls to Rory Gaffney do not result in goals, and neither does passing the ball among defenders. Limerick struggle to change their game plan when things go wrong, and lack a fully fleshed out bench with which to actually inact such change from a team make-up perspective.
But with all that having been said, it is important for the fanbase to not get too carried away. Much of the financial focus this season has been off-field, with the continuing development of the Market’s Field and the coming together of the Bruff training centre plans. Such things need time and money to come to fruition and there has to be shortfalls elsewhere as part of that. The playing budget has taken a hit in that regard, not helped by the lack of a main sponsor. And while that may be frustrating, the long term good of the club must take precedent. Too many times in the LOI have clubs taken only the short term route and gotten themselves into dangerous financial trouble. Part of the suffering the team is undergoing right now does have a beneficial end result. With a stadium, with a training ground venture, with a sustainable future, Limerick can go to great places in a few years, with that bedrock of stability.
That means that right now, and probably next year as well, is a time of consolidation, of staying in the top tier and looking for little beyond that. Limerick, its manager and their current squad should be good enough to avoid relegation. They’re certainly better than Athlone, and should prove better than the likes of Bray and UCD, over the course of a full season. Taylor has had some problems this year, but there are viable excuses – the injuries, the pitch, the financial deficit.
Fennelly should make a bigger impact as Limerick move forward and he gets the proper time to make his presence felt. The inclusion of Curran and MacManus upfront, Prince Agyemang in the middle and former UCD captain Mick Leahy at the back should improve Limerick going forward and in defence. The likes of Ryan, Oji, Tracy, Duggan and Gaffney will provide Limerick with a good backbone of talent as well. That’s not a squad that should be fearful of relegation. They just have to get it together a bit more.
It should go without saying that to be relegated with be an absolute disaster, that would make a mockery of any improvements Limerick are making off the pitch. But I have little fears of relegation when I take the whole situation and judge it in context. Certainly, the growing resentment towards Taylor feels a bit misplaced to me, this early on anyway. If Limerick fail to beat Athlone in two weeks, and find themselves mired in relegation spots after a full round of games has been played, then some re-evaluation can begin to take place and some financial redistribution might be in order for the summer. Until that point, keep the faith.