The Limerick District League Premier Division title race could potentially be the most exciting in recent years. Janesboro are the reigning champions and succeeded in winning the league in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
One thing is almost certain, this season there will be a new name on the trophy. Janesboro have underwent major changes to both the management and playing squad with only manager Shane O’Hanlon, Aidan Hurley, Shane Stack, Adrian Duhig and Lee O’Mara remaining from last year’s Oscar Traynor Trophy winning squad. The team are currently in seventh position and 9 points off the leaders.
The leaders are Pike Rovers who were the last team to win the league before Janesboro’s succession of victories. Due to their long runs in the FAI Junior Cup in the last decade, Pike may have often taken their eye off the league in chase of the more prestigious national trophy. Although if taking your eye off the league is not losing a league game in a year and a half, it shows where the standard bearers are in Limerick
Although he would never admit it, former manager Mick Sheil appeared to prioritise the FAI Junior Cup over the bread and butter of the league and in truth, few could blame him. The recognition that comes with winning that trophy and playing in the Aviva cannot be underestimated.
The Hoops have suffered heartache in the competition twice in the last four seasons. Since the first narrow defeat to Sheriff YC in 2016, ten of the squad remain at Crosagalla. The biggest strength that Pike have possessed in recent years is continuity. In junior soccer, maintaining key players is not an easy business, as can be seen by the Janesboro example.
Despite their vast experience, many of the side are still on the right side of 30. The likes of Gary Neville and Colin Daly have been playing at the highest level for the majority of the last decade and are still below the 30 mark.
Brothers Eddie and Wayne O’Donovan rarely get inter-county or national recognition, but they have been two mainstays in the team and two very consistent high performers in either full-back position, although Eddie has been used as a centre-back more often than not this season.
Winger Eoin Hanrahan has enjoyed something of a resurgence this season thus far. The long-time servant suffered a dip in form towards the end of last season but has been re-vitalised since pre-season, epitomised by his starting place in last week’s opening Oscar Traynor Trophy game for the Limerick District League.
Pike’s ace in the pack for the last couple of season’s has been Steven McGann. McGann is one of the strongest and fittest players in the Premier Division and when full of confidence, is a nightmare for most defences in Ireland to deal with. McGann scored on his debut for Limerick FC when just 16 years of age and has taken the junior game by storm as widely expected.
All of the aforementioned players have played in several high pressure games over the last decade. Yes, there have been occasions where they have frozen, like last season’s Munster Junior Cup final defeat to St. Michaels, but there is a never say die attitude among the squad.
Despite all the talk of Fairview Rangers and Ballynanty’s recruitment, Robbie Williams and Brian O’Callaghan have went about their business quietly, adding four players to the first team in Keith Mawdsley, Oisin Kelly, Kyle Duhig and the returning Adam Lipper, all 22 years old or under.
Lipper had a very brief spell with Limerick FC U-19’s during the summer before returning to the club. Again, despite the tough challenge laid down by Fairview, Geraldines and Ballynanty so far, Pike still remain the team to beat and are currently top of the division.
The Crosagalla outfit came away with five points from a possible nine against all three of those sides away from home and without playing particularly well in two of those games. All of those rivals will have to visit Crosagalla later in the season and one would feel, at least one of those sides will have to come away with all three points to denounce Pike as favourites for this season’s title.
However, with 13 games to go, any talk of a league title in the dressing rooms of any club will be quashed very quickly, but it makes for an exciting title race to keep the Limerick junior soccer public interested.