The clash of Pike Rovers and Fairview Rangers in the last 16 of the FAI Junior Cup at Crosagalla on Sunday afternoon promises to be an enthralling game (2pm). Both sides are in superb form in the league with only one loss suffered between both and just two points separating them.
Furthermore, the age old rivals are due to face off in the Tuohy Cup semi-final to meet Ballynanty in the final at Jackman Park. If that wasn’t enough, if both sides overcome Munster Junior Cup last 16 ties with Stradbally and Geraldines, they will meet in the quarter-final of the provincial.
You may be forgiven for being of the mindset that we have travelled back in time to the early noughties where Fairview and Pike had a bitter rivalry as both contested for league and national honours. Tensions were high among supporters, players, coaches and match officials as for the most part, Pike Rovers looked on enviously as the Fairgreen outfit claimed all before them, including five FAI Junior Cups in seven years.
Jason Purcell is the manager of Fairview Rangers and was involved in many of those titanic battles as he played in central midfield for the club before enjoying two stints as manager. His counterpart is very new to management but is certainly aware of what it takes to win big games.
Robbie Williams was part of a Blackpool team which won a play-off final at Wembley and Williams scored the winning free-kick in front of 80,000. But in terms of management, this is Williams biggest test yet. The former Limerick FC player has assembled a competitive squad and added both quality and quantity to what was a small squad.
Many feared that the departure of Mick Shiel during the summer would accelerate the decline of the current Pike squad. However, Williams has managed to re-energise the likes of Pat Mullins and Wayne Colbert, two vital players for the team. The recent acquisition of Colm Walsh-O’Loughlen could prove a shrewd move.
Speaking of shrewd moves, Purcell has made some of his own. Many people were unsure when Fairview signed both Dermot Fitzgerald and Mark Slattery at the beginning of the season but both players have been in great form, albeit Fitzgerald had a long lay off due to an objection lodged in relation to international clearance.
As previously mentioned this season, this writer felt that the club had signed too many players following last season’s Lawson Cup success and felt it would disrupt an already competitive squad. However, Purcell and his assistant Stuart Fitzgerald have managed to keep a harmonious squad despite the talent regularly left out of the first 11.
Purcell showed his ruthless streak last week at half-time when replacing both Paul Danaher and Jamie Enright and bringing on Robbie Kelleher and Scott Kirwan as the team trailed to Clonmel. Like so many times this season, Fairview turned it around and were 3-1 victors.
Although both managers are well respected figures among the Limerick junior soccer fraternity, they will have little control over what happens over the 90 minutes or more in such a big game, although in Robbie Williams case that is not necessarily true, as it is highly likely that Williams will start next to Pat Mullins at centre-back.
Mullins will be glad of Williams presence as the experienced St. Patrick’s GAA man was given a torrid time by Fairview striker Ross Mann in last season’s Lawson Cup final, and Mann will be hoping to capitalise on a perceived lack of pace in the heart of the Hoops defence.
At the other end, it is a big game for one of Johnathan Grant or Keith Mawdsley. Coming up against Clyde O’Connell and Mark Slattery, the much vaunted strikers will have to prove their worth. With Grant having entered his 30’s, his chances of winning the FAI Junior Cup are dwindling, as is the case for many of his teammates who are looking for a second FAI in nine years.
Possibly the biggest deciding factor will be how much either team misses two key players who are suspended for the clash. Pike talisman Steven McGann will be a massive loss for the Hoops. More often than not the physical number 10 is Pike’s go to man in big games and his physicality will also missed in such a fierce contest.
Fairview dangerman James Fitzgerald will also be suspended following a red card picked up in the victory over St. John Bosco in the last round. The left sided player has made a real impact this season and his link up play with Ross Mann has resulted in bundles of goals for both players. Fitzgerald oozes confidence and will be a big loss.
However, in terms of importance to the team, McGann’s absence may be harder to replace with the reliance on Colin Daly’s creativity becoming more profound as a result.
Either way, despite the excitement surrounding such a big game in Limerick, we will be losing one of our big hopes before the quarter-final stage but with the strength in depth both possess, either side has a great chance of reaching the final and ending a 9 year Limerick wait for FAI Junior Cup success.