On Sunday afternoon, an age old rivalry in Limerick junior soccer will recommence with the meeting of Pike Rovers and Fairview Rangers at Crosagalla in the FAI Junior Cup last 16 tie (2pm). Historically, it is a game which attracts a massive support from both clubs and the neutral observer and one would imagine that this weekend will be no different.
Despite both clubs beginning the second decade of the 21st century with FAI Junior Cup successes (Fairview Rangers in 2010 and Pike Rovers in 2011), the rivalry has been largely dormant due to Fairview’s decline from the halcyon days of the 1990’s under Dermot Finnan and the early noughties under Derek Whyte and more recently current manager Jason Purcell.
The Fairgreen outfit were unable to maintain such successes during the last decade with lack of quality and direction which saw the team end many seasons in midtable. However, after a summer of heavy recruitment, Jason Purcell’s side are now challenging on all fronts which has re-invigorated the rivalry with the Hoops, who are also challenging on all fronts.
Both sides are missing two key players for tie as Steven McGann (Pike) and James Fitzgerald (Fairview) are suspended after being sent off in the sixth round games earlier in the month. However, we will focus on two key battles that will go a long way to determine the outcome of this cup tie.
Ross Mann vs Pat Mullins/ Robbie Williams: Ross Mann is the form junior striker in the city if not the whole country at present and he will have to be curtailed by the home side if they are to advance. Mann will be coming up directly against one of the most experienced centre-backs in junior football in Pat Mullins and most likely former Limerick FC teammate Robbie Williams.
In last year’s Lawson Cup final between the two sides, the former Airtricity League striker was the difference between them in Fairview’s win. His pace and agility caused Mullins all sorts of problems and it is likely that Mann will target the physical centre-back once more on Sunday.
Pike can not allow the front man to have the freedom of the channels like he did in May and has managed on numerous occasions so far this season. It may entail more than just Williams sweeping Mullins, which is a vital asset. Both full backs will also have to be on hand in order to prevent Mann isolating either centre-back. It will be a tough task but with the joint best defence in the division, Pike are certainly up to the task on their day.
The midfield battle: With both sides favouring 4-2-3-1 formations for the majority of the season, there were too many names to pinpoint. The midfield battle is crucial to the success of any team in any big game.
In this crucial tie, big game experience is aplenty. Following his return from Janesboro last season, Jeffrey Judge has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance.
Next to him in a defensive midfield role is the perfect partner for Judge, who is renowned for box to box runs and energetic displays. Stephen Bradley is the definition of a big game player. The former Janesboro man was signed by Purcell for days like this. He has often made less than sporadic appearances in league campaigns for clubs in the past and managed to perform exceptionally on the big day.
Bradley’s task will be marshalling Colin Daly who will take on the creative mantle for the Hoops especially with the absence of McGann. It is a huge game for Daly against his former club and he will need to find a way to adequately support Johnathan Grant, who we assume will start the game.
Equally, it is a massive game for Pike captain Conor Kavanagh against his former club. He returns having missed last week’s Munster Junior Cup win over Pearse Celtic. He will play behind Daly and Shane Walsh and will almost certainly be in direct competition with Judge, a man he is very familiar with. He will have an equally important role in breaking up the supply to the Fairview front line. Whoever has a bigger impact on the game on Sunday, Kavanagh or Bradley, Daly or Judge, Walsh or AJ O’Connor, will be a major deciding factor in the result.