Pa Ranahan: Limerick Football’s progression should not be taken for granted

I’m sure a lot of people are watching the European Championships that are taking place right now. You might all have a favourite that you want to see win it – or maybe a team you don’t want to see win it! And as good as it has been – and there have been some absolute crackers – there is something lacking when Ireland aren’t involved.

It doesn’t capture the imagination the same way, for obvious reasons. Maybe we have been spoiled over the years. It’s the first Euros since 2008 that there is no Green Army presence. You maybe start to expect that you’ll always be there. Take it for granted even. Similar to the mid-90s, when it was almost a national tragedy when Ireland didn’t qualify for Euro 96. Or the 1998 World Cup in France.

Having been to three of the previous four major tournaments, we had become accustomed to dining at the top tables. Now we realise it was a time to cherish. Covid has also made us understand how much we took for granted the influence supporters have on the enjoyment of sport. Especially in Gaelic Games, where the big hit, the score that drops just over the crossbar or the ball almost bursting the net just don’t have the same effect without the roar of the crowd.

And fist pumping just looks silly.

GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin 29/7/2018 Cork vs Limerick The Limerick team Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

As with most walks of life, we can get so caught up in “what’s next” that we often neglect to appreciate those moments where we achieve something that we worked so hard for. And looking on at the Munster Championship performance of the Limerick Footballers last weekend, and indeed their performances generally over the last 18 months, I do think we need to be careful we don’t take it for granted.

It wasn’t that long ago that Limerick finished in second last place in the National Football League. Or hadn’t won a Munster Championship game for seven years.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort, commitment and leadership to turn that ship around. Whoever said “what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger” has obviously never been involved in Limerick football circles. Because sometimes it can feel like it’s just not meant to be.

But those involved keep battling on and trying to do the right things and put in place the best structures. And when the opportunity allows for it, that preparation dictates whether you can take advantage. This group have done just that.

There was a real purpose and obvious structure to what Limerick delivered during the league. You could clearly see that this was a team who knew what they were about.

As satisfying as the league performances were, you wondered if they could add another couple of strands to their attacking play. Those watching last Saturday were left in no doubt that this was the case. Along with the scoring threat that the full forward line has provided throughout the league, there was also powerful strike runners through the middle once the ball moved off the wings. And the interplay was as good as it has ever been.

26 June 2021; Danny Neville of Limerick during the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Limerick and Waterford at LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

It wasn’t flawless, with a drop off in standards for short spells either side of halftime, which I’m sure Billy Lee, Brian Begley et al will point to moving forward. But for the majority of the game the execution was spot on. 3-14 from play. Nine different scorers. Only four wides. The creation of numerous goal scoring chances. And when Waterford started to tire in the second half, the Limerick substitutes took full advantage. Another example of the depth and competition there now is in the panel. It was a day to saviour for the players, management and backroom. One they fully deserved.

There is so much that goes into delivering a performance like that. Hours of planning. Being diligent with conditioning programs. Dealing with knock backs both physical and mental. Watching and rewatching video clips. Organising your life around training and recovery. Honing your skills away from the group. Being open to creating a bond with your teammates. Blocking out those that question why bother being a Limerick Footballer. And it should never be taken for granted when it all comes together. Nor should the energising effect that recent results have for Gaelic Football here.

Saturday as a whole showed me that. Earlier that morning, while the Seniors were gearing themselves up for their championship battle, other groups were going about their business a couple of hundred yards from the Ennis Road venue. The previously deserted car parks of the LIT campus were a hive of activity, with players from all over the county arriving en masse.

The weather certainly helped but there was a buzz around the place. The early birds of Peter Lavin and Seanie Buckley were out on the pitches setting out the plans for their respective coaching sessions. And there was a new group joining them on this occasion. A group which possibly epitomises the interest for the big ball that now exists in the county.

Made up of players who are not currently part of the under 20 or senior panels, these lads have committed to a continuous coaching and development program that could help them break into those panels in 2022. This type of initiative is not for everyone. And there are no guarantees.

But players should never take for granted the opportunity they have to reach their potential. It certainly helps when the flagship team are leading that charge.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”.

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