Limerick FC face a mammoth challenge on Friday evening as they entertain Munster rivals Cork City in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division at the Markets Field (kick-off 7.30 pm).
Both sides enter the game in contrasting form as Cork consolidated their position at the top of the league table on Monday night with a 1-0 victory over Shamrock Rovers at Turners Cross thanks to a Kieran Sadlier penalty. On the other hand, Limerick FC were easily beaten by Derry City at the Brandywell as a hattrick from Ronan Hale along with a single goal apiece from Aaron McEneff and Ronan Curtis gave the Candystripes a 5-0 victory.
Worryingly for Limerick manager Tommy Barrett, the heavy defeat comes just two weeks after a similar 8-0 capitulation at the hands of Dundalk in Oriel Park. The Shannonsiders bounced back from the setback with a 1-0 victory over Bray Wanderers last week through a late Danny Morrissey header.
Despite only conceding one goal in three games against Sligo, Bohemians and Bray, the concession of 13 goals in two away games against Dundalk and Derry will be a big concern. It is encouraging to see Barrett’s team pick up positive results against bottom half sides but Limerick must face the likes of Dundalk and Derry on three more occasions this season and must find a way to become competitive in these fixtures.
The home side are expected to be without midfielder Eoin Wearen who departed the Brandywell pitch after 15 minutes following a poor tackle from opposite number Aaron McEneff. It was a blow for the former Bohemians man who missed the whole 2017 season through injury. Striker Mark O’Sullivan did not feature on Monday night and remains a doubt. Otherwise, the management team will have a full squad to choose from.
The possible Limerick midfield trio of Shane Duggan, Cian Coleman and Barry Maguire will have an exceptionally tough task on Friday night. Cork City’s midfield options include Barry McNamee, Georoid Morrissey, Garry Buckley and last season’s star performer and vice captain Conor McCormack.
McCormack is an extremely energetic defensive midfield operator who effectively protects his defence. Duggan will have a lot of work to do in order to find space. At the creative end of the three is former Derry man Barry McNamee. Before the midfielder signed for Cork, he was heavily linked with a move to the Super Blues. He has the innate ability to create space in tight areas. In particular, Eoin Wearen has struggled to prevent opposition players picking up possession at ease as was evident in all three away games. Limerick’s Cian Coleman may need to perform beyond his years to contain his opposite number.
Cork are monitoring the fitness of veteran centre-back Alan Bennett and right-back Steven Beattie ahead of the short trip to the Markets Field. Garry Buckley is struggling with illness but will be assessed on the day of the game. Striker Josh O’Hanlon picked up a knock during the week and is likely to miss out on the match day squad.
During a press conference in Cork before the game, Cork manager John Caulfield warned that concentration levels must be high in defence due to Limerick’s preferred conservative approach.
“Limerick will play on the counter attack and sit in. We will have a lot more of the ball. It will be a different type of defending where concentration levels will be huge.”
There are six former Cork City players in the Limerick squad ahead of the game Friday. Conor Ellis, Mark O’Sullivan, Danny Morrissey, Darren and Billy Dennehy and Cian Coleman all lined out for the Rebel county in the last seven years. Caulfield reserved special praise for a number of these players.
“Mark O’Sullivan was probably the best signing we ever had at the club in the context of where he came from and what he did when he came to the club. Billy and Darren were big players for us. Cian Coleman is very committed and doing very well for Limerick. Danny is always a man who can poach goals. They have a lot of lads who have done well for us and I’m sure they will have a spring in their step tomorrow looking forward to the game.”
One player who will certainly feature for Cork City is left winger Kieran Sadlier who scored the penalty to secure the victory on Monday. During an interview with Sporting Limerick earlier in the season, Limerick right-back Shaun Kelly cited Sadlier as one of the toughest opponents he had faced when they clashed when Sadlier was still at Sligo. The lively winger also scored in the Markets Field during Limerick’s surprise victory over the Leesiders last season.
Cork have enjoyed four victories in the last five meetings between the sides which is a sign of the task facing Limerick on Friday. The visitors are likely to dominate possession so it is vital that Limerick stay compact and keep their defensive shape. Unfortunately, the team were heavily punished in Oriel Park for failing to do so. The home side cannot afford to give their Munster rivals a head start and even more importantly, they must show more resolve if they do go behind. Furthermore, the home side may be required to apply more pressure on the ball in their own half of the field to avoid the creation of holes in the defensive unit.
Despite the worries facing Barrett, he will take heart from the fact that Limerick have been solid at the Garroywen venue this season. There will be a lot of motivation from ex-Cork players in the squad and the squad in general, to bounce back from Monday’s drubbing.
Wingers Daniel Kearns and Billy Dennehy will have important jobs to do in aiding full backs Shaun Kelly and Shane Tracy as the latter in particular has been targeted repeatedly by opposition teams this season. Although it means sacrificing any attacking support for Morrissey or Ellis, maintaining a clean sheet should be the first priority on Friday night to restore confidence.
Last Season :
31 March 2017: Limerick 0-3 Cork City
17 April 2017: Limerick 0-3 Cork City (EA Sports Cup second round)
16 June 2017: Cork City 4-1 Limerick
22 September 2017: Limerick 2-1 Cork City
29 September 2017: Cork City 1-0 Limerick (FAI Cup Semi-Final)