Billy Lee: ‘You can’t build without foundations’

Limerick manager Billy Lee makes no attempt to downplay the importance of the Munster SFC win over Tipperary earlier this month.

Billy Lee: ‘You can’t build without foundations’

Limerick manager Billy Lee makes no attempt to downplay the importance of the Munster SFC win over Tipperary earlier this month.

The winter of 2017 was not kind to Limerick football, with 18 members of that year’s panel unwilling to commit for the 2018 campaign.

A further 53 players declined an invitation to join the set-up, highlighting the apathy which exists towards football in the county.

It was no surprise come championship, then, that the starting team put out against Clare in the Munster quarter-final included five championship debutants and contained just seven survivors from the corresponding 2017 fixture.

Their end of year 2018 accounts made for bleak reading: Just one victory — at home to Waterford on March 10 — recorded between league and championship.

So, while the seven-point victory over Tipperary may have ended a seven-year wait for a provincial championship win, far more important for Lee was the fact that his young and inexperienced players had finally caught a break.

“Limerick football needed that win, the players needed it,” explained Lee, now in his third season at the helm.

“They have had a tough 18 months. People on the outside looking in wouldn’t understand that as clearly as we do. A lot of them had come in and we had very few experienced players on the panel.

"The lads had to go out, take on this, and learn. There was no one there to help guide them, bar maybe Garrett [Noonan] and characters like Iain Corbett, Daragh Treacy, and Jamie Lee, but these guys are still only young and still learning too.

“That influence you would have from players who are coming towards the latter end of their career wasn’t there.

"The new lads were thrown into the deep end last year and they went okay for 50 minutes against Clare in the Munster championship, but then we had Mayo.

"The league campaign had been difficult as well; Leitrim gave us a trimming and we only drew with London.

“People expect, but you can’t expect something without a foundation. You can’t build something without a foundation. We had to learn from all of that.

“They are good lads. They are learning, sticking at it, working hard and beginning to enjoy it.

They can see that if they take on the lessons that are there, then they can become more competitive, even if that doesn’t always guarantee victories.

"The Tipperary victory made them see the harder they work, the luckier they become.”

He added: “It is nice to be prepping with a victory under our belt, as opposed to the previous number of years, where we did not have a victory.”

Lee does not accept that tomorrow night’s provincial semi-final away to Cork is a shot to nothing for his team.

The last seven meetings of the counties ended with Cork on top. Only twice — in 1965 and 2003 — have Limerick bettered them in the championship.

“There is an opportunity for us to further grow and develop. Our development is bigger than the Cork game.

"Certainly, people would have been talking up Tipperary to provide a stern challenge to Cork. We hope we can get into that space. I’m not sure if Cork’s relegation is actually where they are at.

They are progressing to being in a better state. Maybe if the league went on for longer they wouldn’t be in Division 3 next year.

"We’ll go there and intend to take them on with expectations of ourselves and for ourselves.”

Leaving aside their turbulent 2018 season, that Limerick are preparing for a crack at a first Munster final appearance since 2010 did not look a runner when their bright start to Division 4 was undone by five straight losses.

“Leitrim [in round four] was one of the games I felt we should have won and it was a very hard knock to take. When you are trying to build and lads are growing and developing, victories, go a long way in helping you develop.

"You have to understand the knocks along the way in terms of laying a foundation and that was certainly one of them, against Leitrim.

“We just try and do our best with the resources that we have. There is a lot of good work going on in the academy, with former players coming in and taking up coaching roles.

"The Tipperary win has given everyone a lift, but we have got to keep our feet on the ground, keep working, keep building a squad, so that when the players from the academy start to grow up in a number of years time, we have a team that is competitive and it gives them something to aspire to be.”

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