Limerick FC entertain fellow strugglers Bray Wanderers at the Markets Field on Friday night in what promises to be a crucial game in the battle to stay in the Airtricity League Premier Division (7.45 pm). With so much reported upheaval at the club, the Shannonsiders cannot afford to give their opponents any more encouragement.
It has been widely reported that Limerick have agreed mutual terminations with up to eight players this week in the midst of financial instability. Goalkeeper Brendan Clarke looks set to sign for Waterford United. Conor Clifford, Mark O’Sullivan, Daniel Kearns and Henry Cameron have already left the club while sources are reporting Darren Dennehy is also close to the exit door. Local journalist Alan O’Brien broke the news that centre-back Tony Whitehead will depart the club also.
A statement from the club on Thursday night read:
“#LimerickFC can confirm that midfielder Conor Clifford and striker Mark O’Sullivan – who both would have missed Friday through a hamstring injury and suspension respectively – have exited the club, as have New Zealand international winger Henry Cameron and forward Daniel Kearns.”
Limerick manager Tommy Barrett was quick to praise the departing players attitude and wished them well in the future.
“We thank the boys for their professionalism, commitment and effort in their time at the club. They are all good professionals, honest and well committed, and we wish them all well in the future.”
With the July transfer window opening on Sunday, it is still unknown whether some players mentioned will feature for Limerick on Friday. It is unlikely that Tommy Barrett would include any players that are heading for pastures new. In such a big game, the Limerick boss needs a fully focused squad and not players taking care of themselves for the shop window or for their new club.
Although there is no doubting that the squad lacks depth and the above players were crucial first team players, it may be a fruitless exercise to include them when you will be unable to select any of them for the rest of the campaign. Players like Tommy Holland, Karl O’Sullivan and Colm Walsh-O’Loughlen will feature more prominently in the future despite rumours of trialists at the club. O’Sullivan in particular has shown promise and although Barrett will say differently, it will be a different ball game when you have to produce week in and week out. On so many occasions, Barrett has been able to give his younger players a rest following appearances. Unfortunately, this will no longer be a luxury Barrett can avail of.
The list of players to depart includes Darren Dennehy and Daniel Kearns. Neither signing has worked out as both players have spent more time on the treatment table than on the pitch. Also, Henry Cameron’s time at Limerick has been little short of atrocious as he has barely featured under both Neil McDonald or Barrett. Mark O’Sullivan has worked extremely hard during his time at the club but he has failed to find the net.
Brendan Clarke will certainly be a loss as will Conor Clifford, even if the Dubliner was only signed in April. Tony Whitehead has divided opinion among Limerick supporters. However, centre-back is an area where Limerick have lacked depth and the loss of Whitehead will add to the fragility. But in reality, the bulk of the departures have radically underperformed and in the current situation, the club had no option.
The expected flurry of departures makes the Bray match even more important than it already was. The Super Blues will now be fielding sides filled with inexperienced and unproven players for the rest of the campaign. Therefore, it appears inevitable that ground will be lost in the fight for survival. If former Limerick manager Martin Russell brings his Bray troops to the Markets Field and leaves with all three points, that three point gap would not be big enough to ease Limerick fears of automatic relegation. However, if Limerick players can dig deep and show the character required to gain all three points during such a turbulent time, a nine point gap may even be enough to severely damage Bray confidence.
One thing is for sure, Limerick cannot afford to lose the game on Friday night. A draw would not be the end of the world as it would keep the Seagulls at arms length. From a situation where Limerick were looking up all season, they must concentrate on who is over their shoulders from now on.
In truth, a return to the first division for the club is not an option. Akin to Wimbledon in the English Premier League in 2000, if the club were to be relegated, another long period in the doldrums would probably be the best the die hard supporters could hope for. The worst outcome is something that many committed men before Pat O’Sullivan have fought against for many years; oblivion. Any support gained over the last few years would effectively vanish if first division football was on offer. The Markets Field may not be a viable option for the club. It is hard to see an investor becoming interested in a first division Airtricity League club. Although it’s always a possibility. Just look at Lee Power at Waterford FC.