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Dublin: 8°C Sunday 18 April 2021
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With a 100% record and 10 points clear, Limerick are absolutely tearing up the First Division

We speak to manager Martin Russell about their blistering start to the season.

Blues boss Russell.
Blues boss Russell.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

WE MAY BE just seven matches into the 2016 campaign but Limerick already appear to be running away the SSE Airtricity League First Division.

Having strung together a remarkable run at the back end of last season, the Blues narrowly lost out to Finn Harps in the promotion/relegation play-off meaning demotion to the second tier.

The club made an immediate return to the Premier Division their top priority and, eight weeks in, their title challenge could hardly be going any better.

With a 100% record, Martin Russell’s men have already opened up a ten-point gap at the top of the table.

“I knew from the outset we had a good group of players for this league but I also knew that everybody would want to beat us,” manager Russell told The42 this week.

“The challenge in each game has been to try to play the best we can and that’s got us to the position where we’ve won all our games to date.

“It’s a case of good players playing well and we just want to keep it going as long as possible.”

Not only are they out in front on their own, Limerick are one of two clubs in the division alongside Shelbourne with a positive goal difference after scoring 31 and conceding five.

I’d like to think that with our current group we have a good number that could equip themselves well in the teams in the top half of the Premier Division,” added Russell.

“That’s a good sign and I do believe that there’s a nucleus there that should be playing at a higher level.”

A significant factor in Limerick’s fine start was their ability to hold onto the guts of last season’s squad and Russell believes the group are fully behind the project to make Limerick one of the biggest club’s in the country.

“The lads that remained last year that could have gone elsewhere saw what was happening, particularly getting into Markets Field. This is our first proper season here and they realised the potential so they just want to keep it going.”

The club returned to its spiritual home back in June after 31 years away and began pulling in decent crowds again, although attendances have been down on last season, as you might expect.

“People said the crowds wouldn’t be as good for the First Division but they’re okay at the moment,” he says. “That said, we still want to improve on them because if we have better crowds it will give us more revenue and make a big difference to our budget.”

[image alt="A view of the large crowd at the game" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2016/04/a-view-of-the-large-crowd-at-the-game-3-630x379.jpg" width="630" height="379" credit-source="INPHO" caption="A%20packed%20Markets%20Field%20during%20the%20promotion%2Frelegation%20play-off%20with%20Finn%20Harps.%20" class="alignnone" /end]

With the loss of top goalscorer Vinny Faherty to Galway United, experienced striker John O’Flynn was brought in from Cork City, while Aaron Greene arrived from St Patrick’s Athletic and Chris Mulhall joined after a spell with UCD.

“When we lost Vinny, it was a case that we needed a recognised goalscorer or two,” tells Russell. “We brought in John and there’s no doubt about his quality.

“We’ve also utilised Chris Mulhall but as well as the front lads, we’re getting goals from different areas in the park — from defenders, midfielders and set plays.

“It has been very pleasing but there has been a lot of work behind the scenes to be able to do what we’ve managed to do.”

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Tonight sees Limerick make the trip to Belfield to face UCD, currently joint-second with Cobh Ramblers.

Russell, a former manager of the Students, remains an admirer of what his old employers are trying to do under manager Collie O’Neill in terms of developing young players and giving them the opportunity to experience senior football at the top level.

“Collie has continued on in creating a pathway for players to get their chance and experience SSE Airtricity League football,” says Russell.

“Dr Tony O’Neill had the idea of creating the UCD model and it is one all clubs could learn from.

“The model is a great one and the young players that I worked with there have all gone on to big things.

They were very unlucky last year not and they’re going to be one of the likely challengers here.”

The league may be the main goal but, as this week’s 4-0 EA Sports Cup win over Wexford Youths showed, Limerick hold realistic ambitions of making an impact in the cup competitions.

We identified our number one priority to get back up to the Premier Division but all the boys will want to do well in the cup competitions as well.

“We’re into the quarter-finals of the EA Sports and we’ve a home draw against Galway so we’ll look forward to that one when it comes around.”

It may be early days, but early signs look good on them bouncing back straight away, and Russell maintains it’s vital for the club and the city.

“The lads realise that if we can get it right at Limerick then the potential is really big,” he explains.

“Outside Dublin, you’re talking about Cork and Galway as major cities that have that potential to harness people to come to the games and business people who could be getting involved too.

“If you look at the history, it hasn’t happened for a long time at Limerick and there have been reasons for that.

“Fortunately, we’ve got a chairman in Pat O’Sullivan who is really ambitious and he has been working hard for the last number of years to do something really positive with the football club.

“So we’re trying to do our part and bring it to another level if we can.”

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