Earlier today, Limerick FC and manager Martin Russell parted company after three years in charge of the Airtricity League Premier Division club. Russell took over from Stuart Taylor in July 2014 and guided the club to a top-half finish that season.
The move comes after a 0-3 reverse against Munster rivals Cork City in front of 3000 supporters. Speaking during a statement released on Monday afternoon, Limerick chairman Pat O’Sullivan said,
“The board and Martin had a meeting this morning. Following a discussion, we mutually agreed to go our separate ways. The board and Martin subsequently met the players to inform them of Martin’s departure.”
The statement continued by thanking Russell for his contribution to Limerick over the past three years. O’Sullivan continued,
“All at Limerick FC wish to thank Martin for his tremendous contribution to the club’s development since joining in 2014, and we would like to express our sincere gratitude for his hard work and commitment throughout that time. His role in winning the First Division last year in such spectacular fashion, as well as reaching the final of the EA Sports Cup, will not be forgotten and secures his place in our club’s history. He will always be warmly welcomed back to the Markets Field.”
The Dubliner made a short statement in which he thanked the club for the opportunity to manage the club. “Following a meeting this morning the Club and I have mutually and amicably decided to part-company. I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to Pat O’Sullivan for the opportunity to have managed Limerick Football Club. I would also like to wish everyone at the club, players and staff, the very best for the future in driving the club forward to achieve their goals” Russell stated.
Following a successful start to his managerial reign in the summer of 2014, the club were relegated in 2015 after failing to win any of their first 22 games. Despite the relegation, Russell led the side on a great run in the latter half of the campaign, winning seven of their final twelve games before losing to Finn Harps in a two-legged promotion/relegation play-off.
In 2016, Limerick comfortably won the Airtricity League First Division title at the first time of asking having lost only one game all season. Furthermore, the Dubliner led the club to the EA Sports Cup final where they were defeated 1-4 by Russell’s former club St. Patricks Athletic.
The Shannonsiders had a superb start to life back in the premier division as they defeated Sligo Rovers by 5 goals to 1 on the opening night at the Markets Field. A narrow 1-0 defeat at the hands of champions Dundalk did little to dampen the spirits of supporters and was cause for great optimism.
However, a week which saw the club pick up just one point from six in a defeat and draw at home to perceived relegation threatened Bohemians and Finn Harps respectively, led to pressure building on the former UCD manager to leave his position.
The team responded with a positive display and a 1-0 victory at the Carlisle Grounds in Bray. Although that was an eye-catching win considering the fast start Bray have made in the league this season, a 0-3 home reverse at the hands of league leaders Cork City has led to both parties feeling that a change was needed for the newly promoted club.
While many supporters have been satisfied with the decision, outsiders may be surprised by the timing of it considering Limerick are 8th in the league with a game in hand on most of their rivals due to an abandonment in Derry City.
Limerick have lost three league games this season but two of those have come at the hands of Dundalk and a rampant Cork City side who have made light work of every team in the division with a 100\% record.
A recurring criticism of Martin Russell’s Limerick team was the defensive naivety present and brought about by an insistence to play progressive football from back to front.
During the Dubliner’s only full premier division season in charge in 2015, The Markets Field outfit conceded an average of 2.6 goals a game and regularly relied on outscoring the opposition to win matches.
However, excluding Friday night’s defeat to Cork, the team appeared to be improving their defensive record and the concession of just four goals in five games is testament to that. Particularly in Bray, it appeared that the Limerick management had learned from past mistakes as they maintained a solid defensive shape, with the introduction of experienced goalkeeper Brendan Clarke adding some much-needed assurance.
There is a high expectancy level at the club this season and Limerick’s poorer performances against Bohemians, Finn Harps and Cork City have all come at the Markets Field in front of healthy crowds which would not have helped Russell’s cause.
Limerick have struggled to score goals so far which may be surprising considering the likes of Chiedozie Ogbene, Ian Turner, Lee-J Lynch and Dean Clarke are available in attacking positions. Russell’s possession based game which is generally accompanied with a patient, bordering on pedestrian build up, has been far too predictable this season.
Following the emphatic victory over Sligo Rovers; Bohemians and Finn Harps both arrived at the Markets Field with an effective high pressing game plan with a high defensive line. Limerick’s central striker Rodrigo Tosi lacked the pace to threaten either side’s defence, which allowed the visiting teams to suffocate creative players Lee-J Lynch and Shane Duggan. Inevitably the high press forced defensive errors which led to unrest among the Super Blues faithful.
There is no doubting that Russell’s style of play at home has been unsuccessful this season with no sign of an obvious plan b outside of personnel changes. As a result, the Limerick board and Russell have decided that the League of Ireland winning player is no longer suitable to bring the team forward for the future.
Ultimately, the club must decide what direction they would like to take in the future. One of the main reasons Russell was appointed in 2014 was due to his attractive style of play which the club hoped to promote. However, it will be interesting to see if the club choose a manager with a track record of keeping teams in the premier division while sacrificing the current style of play.
Arguably, the current Limerick squad would have great difficulty in changing to a conservative style to grind out results like that in Bray, on a weekly basis, particularly at home. In saying that, the new manager will certainly be coming to a progressive club with plenty of potential.