Assessing Limerick Managers: Stuart Taylor

We continue our study of former Limerick managers with a look at Stuart Taylor’s tenure at the club. The Scotsman lasted a year and a half on Shannonside before his departure.

He was a surprise choice by the Limerick board at the time, as the likes of League of Ireland veterans Stephen Kenny and Pat Fenlon had been linked with the role. There was a sea change at the club after promotion with many players leaving as well as the move to Thomond Park Stadium as Jackman Park failed to comply with Premier Division licensing requirements.

2013: Limerick supporters were greatly anticipating the return of Premier Division football to the city following a 19 year absence. The squad underwent a major overhaul with the likes of Shane Guthrie, Denis Behan and Corey Treacy departing and a raft of players joining the club from overseas.

The team on the opening night of the season against Cork City at Thomond Park, a game which was live on RTE in front of a big attendance, was almost unrecognisable from the team which gained promotion with only Joe Gamble, Dave O’Leary, Shane Tracy and Barry Ryan featuring regularly under Pat Scully.

Ardent soccer enthusiasts would have recognised new signings Robbie Williams, Craig Curran and Danny Galbraith, all of which had well travelled careers in England. Axel Bossekota, Stephen Folan and Patrick Nzuzi were unknown but came boasting significant reputations from academy football.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if we had realised what the cost of assembling the 2013 squad was, we may have been less optimistic and excited for the future. The squad wasn’t full of big earners as the bench frequently featured young under 19 players such as Barry Sheedy, Daragh Rainsford and Shane Costelloe.

However, the panel featured a first 11 earning significantly more than we were aware of in a bid to fulfil a European dream. As it turned out, the team rarely threatened to break into the top four and finished the season in seventh position, 14 points behind the European places.

The team won exactly one-third of their games but looking back, the season left a lot to be desired. Maybe I am overreacting due to the state of the club in its current form and it certainly isn’t fair to blame this two year period, but playing out of Thomond Park, while it may have provided some comfort for supporters, did not feel right.

A 26,000 seater stadium hosting a team whose average attendance was circa 1,500 did not create the potential buzz we were hoping for. The pitch was also in fairly poor condition for Limerick matches and would improve two-fold when Munster played on it the following week. The euphoria of returning to the Premier Division glossed over the obvious flaws.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand and analysing the effect that Taylor had on the squad. Pat Scully often received hefty criticism for his direct style of play. It is hard to decipher what style Taylor was trying to implement. As mentioned previously, players were full of praise for their former boss.

After speaking to players involved under Taylor’s stewardship, the same cannot be said for the Scotsman. Former Limerick captain Pat Purcell was particularly critical in an interview with Limerick reporter Andrew Cunneen.

Purcell stated in the interview for the Airtricity League website:

“I chose not to feature in the final game out of respect for myself, but also to highlight my lack of respect for the manager. I had no respect for him in any way, shape or form.

I couldn’t really say anything at the time, because it would have just sounded like sour groups, but honestly – he just bluffed his way through what he was doing. We didn’t do team shape in training, no video analysis of opponents, or ourselves, no real tactics – it was like we had gone back 15 years.”

Obviously, people will say that Purcell had an ulterior motive as he didn’t feature much under Taylor, but many players who were major components of Taylor’s squad echoed his sentiments in relation to the lack of opposition and video analysis.

The team appeared to lack an identity under Taylor but for Limerick FC to finish in 7th position and avoid a relegation battle for the whole campaign was certainly seen as progress and satisfied us all.

Below is a full list of players who featured in 2013.

2013 Squad: Barry Ryan, Shane Cusack, Stephen Walsh, Patrick Nzuzi, Shaun Kelly, Brian O’Callaghan, Pat Purcell, Sam Oji, Robbie Williams, Stephen Folan, Aaron Browne, Shane Costelloe, Tony Whitehead, Colm Murphy, Johnathan Tiffoney, Joe Gamble, Stephen Bradley, Dave O’Leary, Jeffrey Judge, Jason Hughes Shane Tracy, Val Feeney, Carol Tiofack, James McGrath, Danny Galbraith, Steve McGann, Axel Bossekota, Craig Curran, Rory Gaffney, Barry Sheedy, Daragh Rainsford, Kieran Hanlon

The 2014 season saw the Super Blues rise one place to sixth and finish in their highest league position in the League of Ireland since Noel King’s time as manager in 1993.

Taylor was in charge for the first 18 games of the season and there was a sense that the project had gone stale during this period. To be fair to the former Drogheda United player, he did not make wholesale changes to the team in pre season and signed Shane Duggan from Cork, son of Limerick FC legend Gerry Duggan and a man who would become a fans favourite.

Players like Tony Whitehead and Shane Costelloe graduated from the u-19s team and featured regularly. The likes of Joe Gamble and Stephen Bradley had departed by now and there was more reliance on youth. However, five wins in 18 games and poor performances in both the FAI and EA Sports Cups sealed Taylor’s faith. He resigned in the aftermath of a 1-2 home defeat to Bohemians.

Once Taylor departed, O’Sullivan provided new manager Martin Russell with funds to strengthen the squad and he did so bringing in Lee-J Lynch, Kieran Djilali, Ian Turner, Shane O’Connor and Jack Doherty. League legend Joseph N’do also joined the club but only featured on the bench for the last two games of the season in an injury hit spell.

Once the squad was strengthened, Russell won 50% of his games in charge and the team managed a top half finish.

Conclusion: Stuart Taylor’s tenure in charge remains memorable due to the fact that he was the first manager to lead us into the top flight in two decades. As a relatively unknown quantity and with 18 months in charge, we didn’t learn much about what type of manager he was.

Listening to some, he was a very hands off manager and the decision to sign many players from overseas in his first season was misguided but it wasn’t Taylor’s job to manage the club’s finances.

However, it was Taylor’s job to maximise the squad at his disposal. When you take a look at the final table from 2013 and 2014, the likes of St. Patrick’s Atheltic, Cork City, Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers finished ahead of Limerick. Honestly, when you look at Taylor’s squad, it was not infinitely better than any of those teams. The problem was the cost of assembling it.

Taylor clearly wanted to bring in the aforementioned players from abroad and had very little knowledge of the league. It was the wrong appointment in my opinion and the Shannonsiders would have been better advised to appoint a manager with League of Ireland experience and a knowledge of the players within it.

However, I have already stated that hindsight is a wonderful thing at the start of the article. Was I complaining when we were finishing in 6th and 7th place in the league? I was not. Was I forecasting the problems that we would face in the future if we continued to recruit players on big money? No.

Taylor has managed to carve a successful career for himself that I would not have foreseen. He has a great relationship with Paul Lambert and is currently his fellow Scotman’s number 2 at English League one club Ipswich. He was also at Stoke and Aston Villa as Lambert’s assistant manager.

There was something very strange about watching Taylor on Match of the Day in stadiums holding 60,000 people while Limerick were in deep financial trouble just four years later. It brought a sense of envy and bitterness if you will. But it wasn’t Taylor’s fault. What did we expect when we appointed an overseas manager with little knowledge of the league or little intent to remain here for too long? That’s a rhetorical question.

2014 Squad: Barry Ryan, Shane Cusack, Ali Abass, Sam Oji, Robbie Williams, Patrick Nzuzi, Shaun Kelly, Stephen Folan, Mick Leahy, Shane Costelloe, Tony Whitehead, Colm Murphy, Conor Maguire, James McGrath, Prince Agyemang, Jason Hughes, Shane Duggan, Shane Walsh, Shane Tracy, Val Feeney, Lee-J Lynch, Shane O’Connor, Joseph N’do, Jack Doherty, Ian Turner, Danny Galbraith, Kieran Djilali, Rory Gaffney, Barry Sheedy, Daragh Rainsford, Garbhan Coughlan, Tam McManus, Ross Mann, Kieran Hanlon

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