Pa Ranahan: Limerick must build on positives from McGrath Cup with good start in the League crucial

With Pharrell Williams taking over the airwaves, February 2014 also saw the last TUS Gaelic Grounds meeting of Limerick and Longford, which saw the home side come away with a 2-11 to 0-11 win.

It signalled the first competitive win in the post Maurice Horan era, which ironically had ended the previous year at the hands of the men from the midlands.

And just to complete the circle, the first league game in his tenure as coach sees Limerick start their campaign against Longford this Saturday at five o’clock at the Ennis Road venue.

Obviously there is a much different look to the Limerick team since that encounter eight years ago. Donal O’Sullivan, Iain Corbett and Darragh Treacy all started that day, and will in all likelihood be in line to feature from the throw in this weekend.

Their experience will be needed, especially with the current absence of starters Brian Fanning, Tommie Childs and Danny Neville. Those players had key roles in the sides improvement over the last few years, on both sides of the ball.

10 July 2021; Brian Fanning of Limerick during the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Limerick and Cork at the LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

But as they say, “Next Man Up”.

Players like Josh Ryan, Brian Donovan and James Naughton have been on the scene previously but look ready for leading parts now. Limerick used the McGrath Cup as an opportunity to cast their eye over their whole panel, with some new faces also being given a chance to impress.

And while the game against a star studded Kerry line up was a step too far – albeit a brilliant learning experience for those players who took part – the performance in the Tipperary game showed real green shoots. Although Limerick were caught on the finishing line that day, enough was shown in an attacking sense to leave a positive frame of mind for the games ahead.

But the league really is a results business. And Billy Lee and his management will know that this opening game could be crucial in determining how the league pans out.

29 May 2021; Hugh Bourke of Limerick during the Allianz Football League Division 3 South Round 3 match between Wicklow and Limerick at County Grounds in Aughrim, Wicklow. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Longford themselves had a mixed O’Byrne Cup. A comeback win against division rivals Louth was followed up by losses to Offaly and Dublin.

Billy O’Loughlin is in his first year as Longford manager, and has assembled an experienced backroom team. As with any new manager, players will be looking to impress. And Longford are still able to call on the experience of Micky Quinn, Darren Gallagher and Dessie Reynolds.

There is no doubt they will be targeting the two points from this opening game, with Limerick seen as probably lower hanging fruit than a lot of the other teams in the division.

Every team will feel that their home games are their best chance of positive results. It would help of course if there was some vocal home support for Limerick Saturday evening.

It has been a while since full crowds were allowed attend our games. This group have made huge strides in the last few years, and because of the environment we were in, a lot of these impressive showings were done behind closed doors. Or with a handful of people in attendance.

10 July 2021; Limerick manager Billy Lee before the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Limerick and Cork at the LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Saturday is a huge game in the context of the season. And the boost the players would get from a loud local crowd would raise them another few levels. I know that from experience.

Limerick will be hoping to be playing “Happy” in the dressingroom post match Saturday evening. But it will take every player putting in a serious shift.

Nothing less will do.

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