Billy Lee is open-minded about staying on for a fourth season as Limerick football manager and says he will depart if that’s what’s required.
Lee didn’t pull any punches immediately after Saturday’s Round 2 qualifier loss to Westmeath in a powerful post-match interview.
He stood his ground on a number of issues, rejecting first of all a suggestion that Limerick were too conservative initially against Westmeath when they fell 10 points behind.
Chasing the game in the second half, they improved and whittled down the deficit to just four points late on before ultimately slipping to a six-point defeat.
Lee also said that he stood over his comments of May, 2018 after the Munster quarter-final loss to Clare, when he was highly critical of the county board and, regarding his plans for 2020 said he may stay or go depending on how discussions pan out in the coming weeks.
“That requires a conversation with the players, it requires a conversation with the county board and the management team,” said Lee. “Look, it ain’t about me. It’s about doing the right thing for Limerick football.
It was put to Lee by a reporter after the defeat in front of around 2,000 in Mullingar, that Limerick may have paid Westmeath too much respect initially.
Limerick came into the game off a 3-18 to 0-6 hammering from Cork at Páirc Uí Rinn and defended with 14 behind the ball at times in the first-half.
They trailed by just two points with 32 minutes played, 0-7 to 0-5, but an unanswered 2-2 from Westmeath between the 33rd minute and moments into the second-half ultimately decided the game, leaving 10 between them.
Asked if early caution had cost Limerick, Lee responded: “No. Were you in Cork? You see, people will come and they’ll look at it and they’ll go on with all that auld crap.
“So we had to be smart in how we approached the first 20 minutes. We had a plan for the first 20 minutes against Cork and it didn’t come off. So we had to be really cautious and it was grand and then all of a sudden we coughed up balls and we went in 1-9 to 0-5 instead of 0-7 to 0-5 or 0-8 to 0-5 maybe.
“We’re a group learning and growing and jeez if we threw caution to the wind in the first 20 minutes and the game was over at that stage, wouldn’t you all be saying, ‘What kind of a clown is he?’ So that was it. End of story.”
Lee came out fighting after Limerick’s Munster defeat to Clare last year also when he hit out at the county board’s administration as ‘shocking’.
“Those things needed to be said, simple as that,” he reiterated on Saturday. “A lot of people focused on what was said about the county board but I’d encourage people to go back and look at that interview in its entirety. It’s bigger than that, but that was obviously the focal point for people, that I was having a go at the county board. But it’s not all the county board. It’s a lot deeper than that and people can judge it from there themselves.”
Lee felt the team’s performance overall at TEG Cusack Park was solid and redeemed reputations after the difficulties against Cork.
He said it’s a young team still in a learning mode and admitted the local club championship doesn’t do them any favours.
“Ye all know the club scene in Limerick, it takes time to come out of that and step up and be faced with that kind of intensity and physicality that’s coming there from sides like Westmeath,” he said. “You will not learn that on the club scene in Limerick, you just will not. I don’t care what people think of me for saying that. I’m just telling the truth.”
Bookmakers placed an eight-point handicap on Westmeath though for 30 minutes or so it was anyone’s game.
Westmeath led narrowly but Jamie Lee, Billy’s son, was lively in the Limerick attack and five first-half wides cost the Division 4 outfit.
So did simple errors with Lee noting that 1-3 of Westmeath’s first-half tally came from turnovers.
James Dolan grabbed Westmeath’s first goal after a solo run to make it 1-9 to 0-5 at the break and Joe Halligan slipped in for a second goal just 28 seconds after the restart.
From there Limerick outscored Westmeath by 1-5 to 0-4 and got the margin down to four points after a fightback that included a 54th minute Darragh Treacy goal.
John Heslin didn’t start for Westmeath due to hamstring trouble but came on and hit an insurance score while top scorer Ger Egan added another.
“We need to improve on that performance if we have any ambitions to go any further than next weekend,” said Westmeath manager Jack Cooney.
“At the start of the second-half our second goal arrived and probably what happened to be honest was that lads collectively sat back and said, ‘This is going to happen naturally’ and they just stopped working. That’s something that we’ll address and take plenty of learnings from.”
Scorers for Westmeath: G Egan (0-6, 3 frees); J Dolan, J Halligan (1-0 each); C McCormack, R O’Toole (0-2 each); J Heslin, K Martin, T McDaniel (0-1 each).
Scorers for Limerick: J Lee (0-6, 5 frees); D Treacy (1-0); D O’Sullivan (1 free), S O’Carroll, I Corbett, G Brown (0-1 each).
WESTMEATH: E Carberry; B Sayeh, K Maguire, J Smith; J Dolan, R Wallace, K Daly; D Corroon, K Martin; D Lynch, G Egan, R O’Toole; T McDaniel, J Halligan, C McCormack.
Subs: J Heslin for McDaniel (39); Sam Duncan for Daly (49); N O’Reilly for O’Toole (59); N Mulligan for McCormack (65); F Boyle for Halligan (72).
LIMERICK: D O’Sullivan; S O’Dea, C McSweeney, B Fanning; T McCarthy, I Corbett, G Brown; D Treacy, T Childs; P de Brun, C Fahy, M Fitzgibbon; J Lee, S O’Carroll, J Naughton.
Subs: A Enright for de Brun (43); Sean McSweeney for C McSweeney (49); P Nash for Naughton (59); P Scanlon for Lee & G Noonan for Brown (67); T Griffin for O’Carroll (71).
Ref: J Molloy (Galway).
Mike Quirke reviews the GAA weekend with Oisín McConville, Donncha O'Connor and Tony Leen.