The Limerick FC saga has taken another twist, with the news this week that they are eligible to apply for a licence for the 2020 season. Will they get one, and if so, will Rovers B be asked to step back out, turned on and then turned off like a tap? Or will FC get turned down for a licence? What about next year, will there be two Limerick teams, given the mooted Limerick United side? The city has a history of struggling to keep one side going on the national stage, what sense would there be in having two?
Only the FAI could turn us back down the farce corridor in this fashion – Limerick FC were out, Rovers B were in, the fixtures had been published.
Personally I’m in favour of carrying on as a 10-team First Division [including Rovers B], with Limerick FC and / or United given the year to firm up plans for 2021, when we should either expand the First Division or bring in a third tier.
Assuming this is how things pan out then yes, there will be something big missing this year. For the first time since 1937 – when Limerick FC replaced former-champions Dolphin – there would be no League of Ireland representation for the state’s third-most populated city.
You could put forward many, many theories as to how things have come to the current sorry impasse, and you still wouldn’t arrive at the whole truth. Soccer trying to compete in a county with a strong rugby tradition and a fine pedigree in both GAA codes. The financial strain on a soccer club trying to compete in a League that is geographically imbalanced in favour of the eastern seaborard. The lack of support from the FAI. Bad management at boardroom level over various incarnations of the club. Take your pick, and maybe add a few more.
Things have been bad before. The name of the club has been changed a multitude of times, usually to reincarnate it after a financial meltdown or near-meltdown. We’ve had Limerick FC, Limerick City, Limerick United and Limerick 37; the latter just about got together in time to compete in the 2007 First Division, a year that marked 70 years of Limerick senior soccer on a national stage.
Changing names is one thing but changing grounds is something that erodes stability at a much quicker rate. They played at Markets Field in Garryowen for decades before moving away in the mid-1980’s; so began a nomadic existence that has taken in stop-offs at Thomond Park, Hogan Park in Rathbane, Jackman Park and even a season in Crossagalla [2000-2001] being put up by Pike Rovers.
To suggest that it has been nothing but a struggle, nothing but doom and gloom, would be completely wrong. The two League titles [1960 and 1980], two FAI Cups [1971 and 1982] and three League Cups [1976, 1993 and 2002] provided a platform for six separate European adventures that took in ties against Real Madrid, Southampton, Torino, AZ Alkmaar, Young Boys and CSKA Sofia. Great days and great nights.
Few League clubs in Ireland can boast having had a former Republic of Ireland manager at the helm, yet Limerick had Eoin Hand as player-manager [in their Limerick United era, when the title was won in 1979-80]. They also had a former Wales and a former England manager playing for them, even if Bryan Flynn only ever was a caretaker for Wales and Big Sam only lasted the one match for England.
The FAI and the Airtricity League have a big call to make on the licence for Limerick FC for 2020 and their re-instatement in the First Division. An 11-team division, including both Rovers B and Limerick FC, would be as imbalanced as a 9-team League; a fudge, a square peg being forced into a round hole. I don’t know what they are going to do. Do they?