Lee: Some players wouldn’t answer or return calls

Billy Lee: Lost 18 of last season's panel over the winter months

Eight years have whizzed by since the Limerick footballers pushed Kerry all the way in a Munster senior football final.

It feels like an eternity.

Times are tougher for the code in the county now and rarely so much as in the here and now. One win in six games was the sum of their Division Four campaign in the Allianz League. The only time they turned any heads was when they didn’t play.

Limerick’s game against Wicklow was one of the three fixtures in the bottom tier left unresolved by HQ in the wake of the snow-disrupted league landscape.

Attempts by both counties to arrange an alternative date were dismissed.

April was ruled out as being unfair on clubs, midweek on the grounds that it would be unfair on the players. Feargal McGill, the GAA’s head of games, explained as much at the time but it’s a chapter that has left a bitter aftertaste with manager Billy Lee.

“Feargal McGill fired back some rebuke about when we gave out… we had arranged the fixture with Wicklow and he gave up a reason why. His information was wrong. These people are disconnected from reality.”

Lee talks about a “disconnect” between Croke Park and the reality on the ground.

He is selling an unfashionable product in a county littered with more attractive alternatives and he fears the possible knock-on effects from something like the cancellation of the Wicklow game on a player body already wary of the footballers’ charms.

He lost 18 of last season’s panel over the dead winter months and another 53 men turned their noses up at talk of a trial in pre-season. That he still has a panel of 38 in training stands as something of an achievement in that sort of jaundiced light.

“I always respect people’s opinion but the disappointing thing for me was that some players wouldn’t answer calls or return a call.

“I find that disappointing because I’m prepared to talk to anyone. But that’s fine. It is what it is now and we’ll move on.

“But, yeah, that’s where it’s at. And it’s fine. If you don’t want to play football with Limerick, that’s okay. Have the courage of your convictions to be able to say it to me.”

He knows it isn’t easy. Some players living outside the county felt they would have been unable to give 100%.

Many of those involved — and those who aren’t — have college exams in and around now. A good chunk play hurling as well as football.

One player Lee spoke to recently admitted to being happy that he was closer to the end of his inter-county career. It’s a distressing anecdote but one that backs up the argument the county scene has veered close to the professional.

“It’s hard enough now, seven days a week,” he said. “Players are trying to withstand the demands of inter-county and if players at our level then find that they’re being disrespected, what are they going to do?”

This is Lee’s second campaign at the wheel. The first was a mixed bag, delivering three opening league defeats and four straight wins, followed by a summer that was short and far from sweet even if they only lost by a point to both Clare and Wexford.

This will be their fourth year straight to be paired with their Banner neighbours: Another dual county with little in the way of a winning backstory and yet one embedded in Division Two and just two years on from an All-Ireland quarter-final berth.

Proof maybe that Limerick can aspire to greater things again.


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