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Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Limerick boss Tommy Barrett (file pic).
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'They go and do other things, and they lose interest, and we lose players'
Limerick boss Tommy Barrett assesses a tough season on and off the pitch for the club.

TO DESCRIBE LIMERICK’S 2019 season as difficult would be an understatement.

The club has been mired in financial problems. Earlier this month, it was confirmed that they had entered examinership.

A court report on TheJournal.ie earlier this month noted: “The judge said that he was taking into consideration contents of the Independent Experts report, which stated that while the company was clearly insolvent, it had a reasonable prospect of survival in the event of a successful examinership.”

The financial problems at Limerick have been a recurring issue for quite some time — last year, after strike action was threatened, the club agreed to pay outstanding wages to players, while a ban was placed on them signing players.

To make matters worse, the Football Association of Ireland recently confirmed an investigation was underway into two of the club’s matches — an FA Cup tie with Sligo and a league game against Shelbourne.

On the pitch, the situation has not been much better. Last Saturday, they played their final game of the season away to Shelbourne — who had already been confirmed as First Division champions — and lost 7-0.

The Super Blues finished sixth in the table, which is higher than some had predicted at the start of the season, but 11 points off the play-off spots.

The issue surrounding former player Sean Russell and Limerick’s unwillingness to pay for his rehabilitation from a serious knee injury has been described by manager Tommy Barrett as an “embarrassment” for the club and is another controversy they could do without.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the mounting turmoil off the pitch, Limerick’s form towards the end of the season tapered off badly.

Having been in contention for the play-offs following encouraging early season form, they took just four points from their final eight league games to kill off any hope of promotion.

Often derisively referred to as the ‘graveyard’ of Irish football, the First Division is a league no team wants to fall into, with only the champions guaranteed promotion at present.

Limerick are far from the only Irish club to struggle owing to a lack of resources, but their situation does seem particularly extreme compared with others.

Barrett is faced with the difficult task of guiding a largely amateur team through this difficult terrain.

The last few weeks have been particularly trying. Accusations against players have been rife on social media, owing to the match-fixing allegations, which Barrett does not want to talk about on the record until the investigation has concluded.  

It’s difficult alright, but once you’re out on the pitch, you just be as competitive as you can be,” he tells The42, when asked about the need to keep morale up amid a turbulent season.

The manager feels it could have been worse, given what his squad have had to deal with in recent months.

“I don’t think we’ve done too badly considering the budget and the inexperienced squad we have. We’re probably one of the youngest squads in the league. We have three or four experienced lads, over the age of 23, but everyone else is 23 or under, which is probably similar to a lot of clubs in the First Division.

“We were doing quite well up until July, in and around top four. It’s kind of faded away in the last few weeks, which is disappointing.”

a-view-of-markets-field-ahead-of-the-game Laszlo Geczo / INPHO It's been a difficult season at Markets Field for Limerick. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Keeping players focused has been a challenge, with some becoming disillusioned and leaving the club ultimately.

“Yeah, that can be difficult,” Barrett explains. “[The issues off the field] affect people and it affects players — we’re all human at the end of the day. It affects everyone, but you have to try to be as professional as you can be and just focus on the next game.

“It’s been difficult. When we were training, we went from five sessions, two or three pitch sessions and two strength-and-conditioning sessions down to two sessions, because lads have to work and manage their lives really.

“Football is a part of it and if there’s no sign of improvement, they go and do other things, and they lose interest, and we lose players again. You start to lose players again — it happened to us last year. And that kind of disheartens players who are out on the pitch.

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“No matter how much you try to motivate them, it’s difficult. You do try yourself to motivate players and they try the best to motivate themselves. Not training as much and then a new influx of players — trying to do the same again [with the new players] is very difficult. You’re getting used to each other with new lads coming in halfway through the season. It’s difficult.”

And when Barrett looks back on the 2019 season, can any positives be taken from it?

“There are always positives. A lot of us probably expected us to finish lower than we are now. All things being right this year, I think we would have had a good shot at the play-offs. Had we not lost all the players and stuff like that, I think we would have exceeded expectations. Finishing sixth — a lot of people saw us lower than that even. 

We blooded a lot of young lads again, we blooded a lot of young lads last year. Even younger lads again [this season], and they’ve done okay this year. 17 or 18 year olds are playing with us in the first team. We had four U19s on the pitch the other night again and a lot of the younger lads were under the age of 21.

“It’s great for those lads — to be getting game time and experience under their belt. The likes of Jack Brady has been excellent. He’ll probably get himself a move out of it. So it’s been good for some of the younger players.”

And turning to the well-documented financial issues that have overshadowed matters on the field of late, is Barrett confident of the club’s long-term survival?

“I don’t know much about examinership and how it works,” he admits, adding: “We’ve been in the league — I think it’s very important to maintain that. And if we’re serious about football in the country, [it's important that] we have a club in Limerick. So if investors can come in [and facilitate] a club and a team representing the city, I think that’s important.

“But the review is happening now for three or four months. We need big investment and we need to create a football industry — there isn’t one at the moment.” 

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