Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Donall Farmer/INPHO Limerick chairman Pat O'Sullivan.
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'The Phoenix article reporting Limerick are facing a winding up order makes for dark reading'
As someone who spent 18 months working at the club, John O’Sullivan is saddened by their recent problems.

THE WORD ‘PHOENIX’ conjures up a couple of different images.

It might evoke the city in Arizona or the magical order from Harry Potter; most recognise the mythology of the bird that rises, beautiful and reborn, from the ashes.

In this sense, it’s often applied to clubs who come back from the precipice, often under supporter ownership.

It’s also the name of the magazine which caused me to discard the piece I was writing for today, and instead talk about a club that might yet have to rise from the ashes itself.

I picked up The Phoenix magazine last night to read about the winding up order served on Limerick FC by the Revenue Commissioners.

The article is tiny, but hits all the key points. The concern in the summer around player wages and the avoidance of strike action. It touches on chairman Pat O’Sullivan’s calls this year for support, investment and his willingness to sell his stake in the club.

It reveals that O’Sullivan has pumped €6 million into the club since he took the reins in 2009, it might sound fanciful to some but over €600,000 per annum tallies pretty well with what I witnessed during my 18 months working with Limerick across 2013 and 2014.

The article mentions O’Sullivan’s company, Galtee Fuels – which was ultimately the source from which much of the Limerick FC funding was drawn – had suffered to the point of a liquidator being appointed to it earlier this year. It all makes for dark reading, and my largely positive memories of working for the club left me saddened.

Many around Limerick love Pat O’Sullivan, others cannot stand him. While everyone recognises that Limerick would still be playing First Division Football in Jackman Park without him, there are many who now see him as holding back the club. They see a willingness to sell his share, but they don’t see those shares worth what he’s reportedly seeking nor do they see him handing over complete control to anyone else. There are people owed money, two of whom I’ve spoken to in recent weeks, who are angry.

A view of Markets Field ahead of the game Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Market's Field. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

My own feelings about Pat are largely positive. He was always straight with me, when I resigned my role with Limerick we parted on good terms and on those occasions where I’ve bumped into him since, we’ve greeted each other warmly.

But that’s Pat, he’s a warm man and welcomes people to him, if he has a fault it’s probably his willingness to hear everyone out coupled with an inability to
distinguish good counsel from bad. He believes everyone is as altruistic and focused as he, but of course they’re not and many people around him down through the years on the fringes of the club have turned his head in a way that never benefited Pat or the club.

While the Market’s Field, which was the great white hope for the club, has delivered to a point, it’s been at a significant – and increasing — cost.

I’ve no doubt Limerick FC will come out of the winding up process by coming to an agreement with the revenue. I saw plenty of winding up orders from the revenue lodged against League of Ireland clubs down through the years and most of them are settled, but it can often be the start of a downward slope which grows more treacherous as you descend.

Even when Limerick settle with the revenue, the damage is already done. The rumoured issues now have proof and are all the weightier for it. League of Ireland clubs look after players and managers first, and the revenue second. After this, everyone else takes their chances when times are lean. A winding up order from the revenue means you’re not looking after one of your most important debts and it sets off alarm bells to everyone
else. If you owe the revenue money, you owe lots of people money.

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Once the revenue blinks, everyone else does too. Over recent days, the offices of Limerick FC will be inundated with requests – or demands – to meet all their outstanding bills. Small traders and businesses will be nervous, they’ll want to stake their claim.

Also, and possibly more of a concern is that companies will likely stop extending credit terms to the club. This was where Cork City were at their lowest point in 2008 when a local bus company – one that had worked with the club for years, and has worked with the club since supporters took control – parked up in the car park of the Silversprings hotel, refusing to move until bills were paid.

When that news broke, creditors came out of the woodwork and companies stopped offering credit. Pat O’Sullivan stood on a stage in Thomond Park at the end of the 2013 season and told the assembled crowd that he needed help to keep the club going. €6 million and five years later, his own business struggling and with the revenue at Limerick’s door, it’s never been more serious.

Limerick host Derry City tonight and people around Limerick have a choice. Hopefully they can put opinions of Pat to one side and turn out to get behind Tommy Barrett and a team which – in spite of everything – has battled non-stop all season.

They have two short trips to Cork and Waterford and two home games left before the play-off game. There’s a chance to get out of the fire in the first place, and not resurrect from the ashes.

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