Preview | Limerick make long-awaited return to Division 2 of the NFL with trip to Derry

Limerick will end a fifteen year wait to play in the top two tiers of National League football this Saturday in Owenbeg.

For the first time since 2007, Limerick will play Division 2 football as they travel to Owenbeg to face Derry this Saturday afternoon.

Back then, the Shannonsiders operated in Division 1B of the National League, essentially the second tier. But they were relegated to the third tier and haven’t made it back since.

National Football League 1/4/2007 Limerick vs Donegal Limerick’s Pa Ranahan gathers possession ahead of Christy Toye of Donegal Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

They were in the bottom tier by 2010 and while they picked up two promotions in three years, they wouldn’t earn a place in Division 2 until last Spring where a comprehensive win over Fermanagh booked their place.

Billy Lee’s men were unsuccessful in the League final but continued a fine season to the Munster final against Kerry. However, successive losses to Kerry and then Cork in the qualifiers brought the season to an end and ultimately the reign of Lee as he stood down in August.

Ray Dempsey was the man to replace Lee and he helped Limerick to the McGrath Cup final where Limerick defeated Waterford, drew with Tipperary and lost to Cork in the final.

They will meet the Rebels later in the league but the campaign begins in Owenbeg for arguably their most difficult challenge where they are paired with last year’s Ulster champions and also All-Ireland semi-finalists.

29 May 2021; Shane McGuigan of Derry in action against Cillian Clarke of Cavan during the Allianz Football League Division 3 North Round 3 match between Cavan and Derry at Kingspan Breffni in Cavan. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Things won’t get easier the following week when they welcome Dublin to the TUS Gaelic Grounds. Both of those games will no doubt give Limerick an indication of where they need to get to but are in many respects free hits for Dempsey’s men.

Yet, it wasn’t long ago that Limerick pushed Derry all the way, with the Ulster men escaping the 2021 National League Division 3 semi-final with a 0-17 to 0-13 victory.

Derry went on to be promoted while Limerick followed suit twelve months later. Their previous meeting came in Division 4 in 2019, Derry again the victors, this time a comfortable 0-13 to 1-5 result on the Ennis Road.

It means that each of their previous three meetings will have taken place in different divisions come Saturday evening. But, this weekend’s clash looks the most daunting with the Ulster side taking huge strides under Rory Gallagher.

Last year, they just missed out on promotion, losing only to Galway but missing out with Roscommon defeating the Tribesmen before going on to claim the title.

It didn’t hamper them come championship time but they will be desperate to earn promotion this Spring and will back themselves against a relatively unknown quantity in Limerick such has been the gap since their last venture in this tier of the League.

29 May 2021; Derry manager Rory Gallagher during the Allianz Football League Division 3 North Round 3 match between Cavan and Derry at Kingspan Breffni in Cavan. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Ray Dempsey has already named his Limerick side for the clash with just one change to the team that were beaten by Cork last Friday night.

Cathal Downes and Barry Coleman are league debutants but both featured heavily in the McGrath Cup campaign under Dempsey. Iain Corbett and Donal O’Sullivan continue as joint captains as they seek a third promotion in that role.

Hugh Bourke is also on the bench with the Adare man last featuring against Cork in the qualifiers as he missed the Limerick SFC through injury.

Eight of the XV were named from the start for that clash in 2021 in the form of Donal O’Sullivan, Sean O’Dea, Brian Fanning, Mike Donovan, Iain Corbett, Cillian Fahy, Adrian Enright and Gordon Brown while Paul Maher and Cian Sheehan were introduced from the bench that day.

They will be expected to lead from the front against a very formidable outfit who are second favourites to be promoted alongside Dublin.

Still, this Limerick side have proved adept at overcoming the odds and will be quietly confident of providing an upset on Saturday.

Limerick face Derry in the first round of the National Football League Division 2 this Saturday at 3pm in Owenbeg.

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