Key Man: Shane Duggan: The Limerick captain is one of the most experienced players in the squad having previously played with both Cork and the Super Blues in the premier division. Refreshingly, Duggan showed great loyalty to reject interest from both former club Cork City and St. Patricks Athletic last season to help his hometown club regain their premier division status.
The composure he regularly shows on the ball is very impressive. Although not the most vocal captain in the league, Duggan likes to lead by example by always being readily available to receive the ball when the team is under pressure. The Shannonsiders will need Duggan to perform well to enjoy a successful season in the top flight.
One to Watch: Chiedozie Ogbene has arrived at the Markets Field from Munster rivals Cork City in what has been regarded as somewhat of a coup by Martin Russell and the club. The young winger was highly thought of at Turners Cross and the bemusement of many Cork City supporters upon his departure is testament to that.
Ogbene has featured and scored in pre-season friendly matches against Ballinamallard, Galway United and Drogheda United as well as scoring in the Munster Senior cup victory over Cobh Ramblers. It has certainly been a bright start to his Limerick career and if this from continues into the new season, Ogbene will be key to Martin Russell’s attacking style of play for the 2017 season.
Other Squad Additions: Just yesterday Limerick FC completed the loan signing of 21 year-old left-back Thomas Robson from Sunderland. Robson has spent his whole youth career at the Stadium of Light. Limerick supporters will certainly have reason to be encouraged by the signing as Robson made his senior Sunderland debut back in May against Watford under ex-Limerick FC manager Sam Allardyce.
However, since the arrival of David Moyes, Robson hasn’t featured this season for the Black Cats. The Super Blues were desperately short on defensive options, particularly at left-back where Shaun Kelly has filled a gap along with various trialists in pre-season.
Robson joined the squad at their training base at the University of Limerick on Monday ahead of the season opener. The club will be hoping that the newly acquired left-back will add significantly to the quality of the squad for the campaign.
Meanwhile today’s signing of Swedish left-back Thibaut Molinatti from Swedish First Division club Enskede IK is another ambitious step from the club. The 22 year-old can play in both full-back positions which will be a great asset to Limerick manager Martin Russell and his coaching staff.
Molinatti featured in the first-half of the friendly clash with Waterford United and impressed the club enough to agree a one-year deal for the 2017 season.
Speaking to limerickfc.ie this morning, Molinatti had high praise for his team-mates and great ambition for the season ahead. He stated,
“I think it’s a good team spirit. The football is of a high intensity and that’s what I’m searching for as I am a player who likes to play at a high intensity.”
“It’s a good team from what I’ve seen and I hope we can be up there fighting at the top.” The 22 year-old will be available for selection on Friday evening for the season opener.
How they did last Season: Limerick FC enjoyed a great season last year albeit in a very weak Airtricity League First Division. For long periods it looked like the Markets Field outfit would remain unbeaten throughout the season. However, a 2-0 defeat away to Cobh Ramblers after the title was sealed ended that dream. That was the only game that the club lost in the league all season.
Martin Russell’s men also reached the EA Sports Cup final in the 2016 season which was a good achievement for a first division club. A sold out Markets Field witnessed a disappointing 4-1 defeat to St. Patricks Athletic on a night in which the realisation of the step up to Airtricity League Premier Division football was evident. The Inchicore outfit also defeated Limerick in the fourth round of the FAI Cup at Richmond Park 2-0.
What to Expect this season: On paper, the 2017 Airtrictiy League Premier Division looks like a tougher prospect than that of the 2015 season when Limerick were relegated. However, one could argue that Limerick’s preparations for this campaign are far better than that ill-fated season.
If Dean Clarke and Ian Turner can recapture their form from the latter stages of the 2015 season in which Limerick almost achieved the great escape, then Limerick will need one of veteran strikers John O’ Flynn, Rodrigo Tosi or Chris Mulhall to convert the chances created by the lively wingers.
The striking department may be a worry for the Super Blues as Mulhall is unproven at this level. Furthermore, both John O’Flynn and Rodrigo Tosi do not have age on their side. However, Tosi has looked impressive during pre-season. Vinny Faherty’s 12 goals were vital in Limerick’s late surge for survival in 2015 so Limerick will be relying on one of the three to make an immediate impact.
One area in which Limerick appear desperately short on options is in defence. Although Paul O’Conor and Ian Turner have filled in at centre-back and right-back in the past, there are only three natural centre-backs available in the squad and the left-back position is currently a major concern and has been a big talking point among the Blue Army supporters during the off-season with Shane Tracy as the only obvious choice.
It has been well documented that Russell is attempting to sign another two defenders before the start of the season. Last Friday evening, Russell included three trialists in defence. The addition of experienced defenders may be imperative to the success of Limerick FC’s season on their immediate return to the top flight of Irish football.
Limerick have performed quite well in pre-season, winning three games from five along with a draw away to Drogheda United and a 2-1 defeat to Galway United at Eamon Deacy Park. Realistically, with the strength of teams such as Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Cork coupled with the improvement of Derry and Sligo since Limerick’s last appearance in the premier division, a midtable finish would be a fantastic achievement.
It is predicted that Limerick will be battling with Finn Harps, Drogheda United, Galway and Bohemians at the wrong end of the table. The season will depend on Limerick’s ability to defend. During the 2015 season, Limerick regularly relied on outscoring the opposition to earn victories.
Title Odds: 33/1
First Game: Home to Sligo Rovers (Friday, February 24th) kick off 7.45 pm.