‘Starving’ Limerick chase precious victory in qualifiers

They’ve found themselves sat at the same table each summer for the past 16 years and yet if you take out their escapades during June and July of 2011, they’ve never managed to raise their voice loud enough for anyone to notice them.

They did make a bit of a scene the year previous against Cork but that was about the height of it.

This afternoon at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick begin their 17th football qualifier campaign.

They’re one of just nine counties who’ve travelled the backroads of the football championship each summer since the qualifiers were introduced in 2001 (Ten counties were exiled to the Tommy Murphy Cup in 2007 and 2008).

From 27 qualifier games played, they’ve won 11, drawn one and lost 15.

On nine occasions they exited the championship without a single qualifier win, while the aforementioned 2011 campaign was the sole summer where they weaved a path that took them all the way to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Always present, rarely noticed.

It was no surprise to hear manager Billy Lee say earlier this week that Limerick are “starving for success”. They’re starving for a victory too.

Defeat to Clare in the Munster quarter-final last month stretched to five years their barren spell in the province. The qualifier wins over Antrim, twice, and London means the county has managed just three championship victories since the end of 2012.

“Winning qualifier games aren’t easy so when you do get over the line, you appreciate them,” remarked defender Garrett Noonan, a member of the Treaty set-up since 2006.

“We beat Antrim last year above in Antrim and we probably weren’t expected to get over the line that day. But we did. Moments like that are to be savoured, as was the prolonged run in 2011.

The game against Cork in the second round last year, we were disappointed with how we performed. We didn’t want to finish our year like that.

“For a team like Limerick, you can’t look too far ahead. It is one step at the time, one training at a time, and try and improve on the little things that went wrong in the previous game.”

Wexford are their guests today. The sides last clashed on February 5, the opening weekend of the league. Limerick were in fine fettle heading across to the southeast having brought Kerry to extra-time in the McGrath Cup final two weeks earlier.

The game below in Wexford Park was crucial in determining who would gain promotion, even at such an early stage in the Division 4 campaign.

Limerick had Westmeath the following weekend and so their promotion push was in danger of being derailed before it ever took off.

And that’s exactly what materialised.

Banty’s boys scored a 0-14 to 1-8 win, with Westmeath inflicting a second defeat on Limerick the weekend after on a 1-18 to 0-12 scoreline. There went aspirations of Division 3 football and lost was the momentum garnered from their extra-time joust with Kerry in the middle of January.

“Wexford were a step ahead of us that day,” recalls Noonan. “Going back to the Kerry game, while that was McGrath Cup, the way we kept going is what you’d be looking for in every game, irrespective of what month it is.

“There is good character in the team, there is good belief, too. We kept going that day against Kerry, in the same vein that we kept going against Clare in the championship. When you do that, you always give yourself a chance.

Doing it consistently over the space of 70 minutes is what we need to get better at. That is the biggest challenge we face.

“I wouldn’t say it is any one thing that is causing us to be at the wrong side of those results. I think there is just an accumulation of small little things that hopefully, we can get right on Saturday. If we can correct all the small little things, it might be the difference to help us and see an improved performance.”

Billy Lee, of course, wants their summer to run beyond June 24. But he knows this young panel has a bit of learning to do yet.

“There was 14 players from the 2016 panel that weren’t available to us against Clare in the Munster quarter-final. That means we had to blood a lot of people and put them into an environment that they had never been in before.

“Against Wexford, we’ll try to be the best we can be and try and focus on what we’re trying to do and that for me is the thing.”


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