Long serving Limerick FC midfielder John Whyte took time out to reminisce on his career in football with local junior club Fairview Rangers and Limerick FC over two decades.
It was a hugely successful career for Whyte who picked up two FAI Junior Cups as well as numerous league titles with the Fairgreen outfit. In senior soccer, Whyte played six seasons with Limerick FC between 1999-2004. They were barren years for senior soccer in the city despite upsetting the odds by winning the 2002 Eircom League Cup.
Seated in the Fairview Rovers boardroom, Whyte’s memories go all the way back to the 1994 semi final against New Ross where the FAI odyssey began.
“It started in 1994 when we got to the semi final and lost to a New Ross team who we shouldn’t have lost to so that sickened us a small bit. I was injured in 1994 and we reached the semi final and were beaten again in 1996. I was also injured for that one. It drove us on to come back and do it again.
“In 1997 we really strengthened with signing the likes of Barry Flynn and Trevor Lovell. They made a big difference to the team and squad. I don’t think any team was going to stop us winning it in 1997. The final was a tough 1-0 slog over Portmarnock up in Dalymount.”
Fairview followed up that success in 1997 by retaining the title under Dermot Finnan in 1998. Amazingly, Whyte felt it was one of the easier trophies he had won as a player.
“In 1998 four of the lads left and went to Limerick and we were thinking we were ruined. As it turned out we had the pick of everybody to sign at that stage. It sounds nuts but it wasn’t very enjoyable because it was too easy. We won the Munster Junior and the league in the same year. I went to Limerick with Declan Considine after that. Did I regret leaving? No, because I loved my time at Fairview.”
Whyte revealed how close Limerick FC was to ruin in 2001 and recalls a conversation between manager Noel O’Connor, Whyte himself and his brother Derek who was also a Limerick player at the time.
“Noel said to us in the dugout in Rathbane (Hogan Park), lads if ye leave Limerick are gone. Everybody had left the club at the time. There was no money and there was no team as such. Noel told us we were the last two standing. We looked at Noel and told him we couldn’t go in that case. It started from there. You couldn’t have that on your conscience as we were told the club would fold if we didn’t try to keep it going”.
In 2002, Limerick FC embarked on an unforgettable journey to win the League Cup despite finishing bottom of the first division. Whyte along with his brother Derek, were influential figures in a dressing that contained a lot of young talent.
“We had to travel away to Galway in the first round. It was a gale force breeze up there that day. Even though we were bottom of the league we had no fear of them. My brother Derek scored the winner. I remember looking over to the Limerick supporters that night and I was so happy with the win because we needed some boost at the time.”
After unexpectedly beating Cork City at Turners Cross in the quarter final – thanks to a solitary goal from Derek McCarthy – Limerick drew Shamrock Rovers at home. Whyte was delighted to end the Hoops treble dreams.
“We got Rovers in the semi-final and they were going for the treble. Noel O’Connor did great work as he contacted Don O’Riordan from Sligo before it as Sligo were after playing them the previous week. They were very one-dimensional and used their full backs a lot, so we decided to shut them down as quick as we could which disrupted them.
“It took one of the most amzing goals I’ve seen from Brian Donnellan. I still don’t think he knows how he did it. Shane O’Donoughue had a great game that day and was making great runs. They (Shamrock Rovers) were getting thick about it and screaming that it was only the league cup but it stopped their treble.”
Limerick had beaten Derry at home thanks to a Whyte penalty. When they arrived for the second leg to the Brandywell, Whyte remembers a tough game and an immense atmosphere.
“I remember at one stage counting how many they had on the pitch because they were all over us. It was the only time I ever asked a referee how long it was to half time and when he told me 35 minutes I thought he meant there was 35 minutes gone. I wasn’t even watching the penalties but I saw all the lads running past me when they missed and it was wild celebrations afterwards.”
Whyte was quick to re-iterate how much he enjoyed his time at the club and was complimentary of the staff who ensured that the players were “looked after” throughout his six seasons with the club despite the difficulties they faced.
“One thing I will say is that Limerick always paid everything. You might go a couple of weeks sometimes but you always got it. I heard people saying afterwards that they were owed money. We were owed nothing. It wasn’t huge money we were on but you got paid. “
“When we won the League Cup, we got 10,000 so they had money again,” John says with the wry smile of a man who was delighted to give everything for his native team.