And so ends another eventful Limerick DL season. A season in which Carew Park, who finished a distant third last year, were one game away from winning the lot. A season in which Pike Rovers, who many were declaring champions after their victory over Janesboro in August, finished empty handed.
Much has been said already about the former, but not much (if anything at all) has been said publicly about the latter. To me it’s patently clear that this year’s performance by Pike is a gigantic and inexcusable underachievement, considering both the size of their squad and their ability to attract players.
Tactically this season, they’ve been consistently questionable. Their insistence on sticking with two out and out strikers in a classic 4-4-2 shape saw them looking predictable in their movement and struggling to break down the better sides. This was particularly evident in the key 1-2 home defeat to Carew in which they dominated possession in the middle of the park through Colbert and Tierney, but were faced with static performances from the two strikers and both wide players.
The squad management was also baffling. Pike packed their squad with at least five out and out number 9s – Barry, Moloney, Okoro, Ryan and Doona. They brought John Okoro in halfway through the season, when it was clear that other areas of the pitch were far more lacking. Why not bring in a nifty number 10 type to play between the lines? Or strengthen in wide areas? There was also the absence of midfielder Conor Kavanagh in front of the defence. This was never resolved. Martin Deady performed there briefly earlier in the season and did well, but in his absence Keith Hartnett was fielded there and was patently not suited to that role in terms of his defensive requirements. Why then bring in the Aisling man considering the plethora of similar players already available to them?
The reaction from the sideline to adversity in games was also poor. The tendency was to switch to a system with three out and out strikers, which often left them vulnerable on the flanks and compromised their chances of getting back into games. This actually happened on one occasion when Pike were AHEAD, in the home game against Boro. The decision to switch led to an equaliser and another two points dropped.
Carew on the other hand showed great acumen from the sideline. The signings of John Boyle and Jonathan Grant in the close season were inspired. With the former playing behind the latter in a 4-4-1-1, protected by the double pivot of Pa Boyle and Steven Grant, they dominated possession in the early season games. Really impressive football. Grant being a natural number ten however, was crying out for a channel runner to complement his work, and the signing of John Connery from St. Michaels at the halfway point provided this in spades. The switch to a more 4-4-2ish shape, and the (strange) absence of Steven Grant, meant that Carew were no longer controlling games from a possession perspective as often as before, but the increased goal threat more than compensated for that. With Grant dropping off and Connery staying on the shoulder and running the channels, defences were given two very different problems to deal with. Compare that to Pike’s static shape up top. Carew also had a tendency to get late goals this season. This surely is a sign of the type of character that they have at the club. Remember Jonathan Grant’s last minute equaliser against Fairview? Or Brian Ahern’s last gasp winner against Regional?
Finally, there was a lot of talk pre-season about new manager Albert Slattery’s personality, about whether he would have the personal discipline to do the job. To me, he always conducted himself professionally, and the decisions he made from the sideline were usually very logical. He also broadly selected a very settled side, particularly at the back: Griffin, Keane, Slattery, Kett.
His influence was undoubtedly one of the key differences between first and second this year.
As for the others, third placed Janesboro struggled massively in the early going, despite running Pike close last year. The departure of midfielder Mike O’Gorman was a huge loss and he simply wasn’t replaced. The signing of forward Christy Doyle was also a disaster as he and the league’s top scorer Shane Clarke were not suited to playing together upfront by any means. From September I was calling for veteran Conor Lynch to partner Clarke and it was no surprise to me when they dovetailed brilliantly in the Lawson Cup final to restore some pride to Boro’s season.
Geraldines, and particularly their management team Paul O’Donnell and Mike Considine, deserve huge credit, both for the type of football they’re trying to inculcate in their club and their final league position (4th). The 4-1-2-3 possession based shape that they are looking to implement is unusual in this league. They undoubtedly lack a few players yet to operate it to an optimal degree, but considering that they’re a newly promoted side the end result has to be applauded. Finding someone to play that anchorman position effectively is key for them. Steven Grant maybe?
Fairview were being tipped by all and sundry to go down this season, and considering the average age and size of their squad, you have to hand it to returning boss Dermot Finnan for their 5th place finish. They faded badly towards the end of the season but some of their early season performances were highly impressive. They were unlucky not to beat Pike and Carew early on on home soil, pressing high up the pitch and looking extremely organised. The 3-0 away win against Balla in the absence of key players Scanlon, McGrath and Heffernan was hard to believe.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see enough of the other sides to really comment on their season. Thanks to everyone involved in Limerick DL football for the entertainment that you’ve provided me with this year. Congratulations also to Carew and Janesboro on clinching the Limerick trophies. Further afield, congrats go to Pike for clinching the Munster Junior. And credit to a Ballynanty Rovers side with a lot of young up and coming talent for pushing them all the way in the last 4. Here’s to another fantastic year in 2013/14.
Limerick Premier Division Champions: Carew Park
Tuohy Cup Winners: Carew Park
Lawson Cup winners: Janesboro
Player of the season: Jonathan Grant (Carew Park): He performed consistently in the key games, both as a 9 in the first half of the season, and as a 10 off John Connery in the second half. No other player made a bigger difference to Carew between this year and last. Exactly the type of player that Pike Rovers were lacking.