“It’s a big deal in its own right but being a Munster side we don’t get to play in Croke Park that often so it’s great to get a game there now. The biggest aim in the league was to win promotion; with that secured we can now go to Croke Park and do our best to add the division four title.”
It was a cut-throat division, reflected in the fact that though Limerick ended up on top, six wins from seven games, their points difference was a mere +7.
“Five of those games were won by two points or less. Every team in that division was strong but that’s the kind of competition you want. Even London, who finished on the bottom, are now a team to be reckoned with, getting stronger every year. We beat them by a point over there but we were lucky to do so. We had a lead of six points but they got a run on us, had the momentum. We were hanging on, delighted to hear the final whistle I can tell you!
For Ian and Limerick there is yet another bonus in gaining promotion – fresh opposition. Division 4 this year was almost a mini Munster championship, themselves, Tipperary, Clare and Waterford all involved while the big two – Cork and Kerry — campaigned in Division 1.
“We know each other so well from having met so often in recent years,” he said. “I think it’s eight times we’ve met Waterford in the last three years.
“Every game has become very tactical, trying to find an edge. We know how to defend against them, they know how to defend against us. The same against Tipperary, so many meetings, so many challenge games as well. That’s one of the reasons it’s so good to be in division three next year, not a Munster team in sight!
The fact Munster’s top two were in Division 1 while the rest were in the bottom tier suggests a massive imbalance in the province. But unlike in hurling, where there’s a yawning gap in standard between top and bottom, football is more competitive.
“Football is very much a 32-county sport and the gap between the best and the rest is narrowing all the time. Training has improved in every county, far more professional setups in place.
“Fitness is a major part of football and that’s something that has really taken off. Dublin took it on a few years ago but now Donegal have brought it forward again. Teams are pushing each other on, further and further, and every county has to try to copy the likes of Donegal if they want to succeed.”
With Cork looming in the horizon then, Munster championship quarter-final on May 25, there’s no fear of Limerick being out of their depth.
“Absolutely not, but we’re not going to think about that this week. Cork have a very strong team obviously and we’ll have our work cut for us. One game at a time though, that’s enough. Hopefully we can finish the league on a high note.”
Ian himself is one of several players that any team in the country would like to have in its ranks, deadly accurate from play and from placed balls, pace and power to burn. The real marquee name in Limerick football however has been midfielder John Galvin, a man who should have at least one All Star to his name by now and would if Limerick managed to make the breakthrough.
Following a couple of lost seasons John is now working his way back to full fitness and played against Clare in the final league game a few weeks ago. A timely boost?
“Definitely, yes, John is doing great, back in full training for a few weeks now and probably will play a part on Saturday. He’s a class player, gives the opposition something to worry about.”
Class on both teams of course and that again is a reflection of the how the gap is tightening in gaelic football, Offaly’s star forward Niall McNamee another of those players who would grace any side.
“This is it, yes, Niall too is a fine player, going to get his quota of scores no matter who he’s playing against; you just have to try to limit the damage.
“Offaly have a great tradition in football and they’re on the way back, good players coming through. We were lucky against them in the league, pipped them by a point but they had two opportunities in the final minutes, a chance to score a point, then a goal that went just wide. I don’t think there’s going to be very much in it again now either.”