The First Division table-toppers maintained their remarkable undefeated season by defeating UCD 3-2 in Belfield, a win that saw them return to the top tier with six games to spare.
The Shannonsiders’ desire to bounce back from relegation at the first attempt was evident from their opening day 4-1 victory — also over the Students — and an impressive goal difference of +55 underlines just how dominant they have been.
Now, a larger challenge presents itself, but Russell is confident they can do much more than survive in elite company.
“From the outset, the promotion was the objective and we wanted to do it in the quickest possible time and that’s what we have achieved,” Russell explained. “A lot of credit has to go to the chairman Pat O’Sullivan and the players.”
“The potential of Limerick is that we can get the work done on and off the field and be a top team in the league. We hope we can play the same way we played this season. We know it’s a tough league and we’ve been there before. You really have to resource to compete in it.”
Limerick’s relegation at the hands of Finn Harps in Ballybofey last season was a bitter pill to swallow. However, Russell maintains the players deserve their place back in the limelight and cited Dundalk’s success as an example of what the swift progress clubs can make.
“Dundalk showed you can make big strides relatively quickly. Clubs like Limerick definitely have potential to grow and if we can do our utmost, who knows what can happen? The first stage for me is trying to play European football and build on that.”
While relegation soured the return, last year, to Limerick football’s spiritual home at the Markets Field, Russell insists the move has played an important part in the feelgood factor around the club.
“The club is getting more established on the Markets Field. The crowds have been good this year. They could be better next year, we hope to keep growing. But I’m very pleased for the supporters at home games and those who travel away. They’ve been great. Pleased for the players who got their reward and also pleased for the chairman who put a lot into the club. We lost a couple of players at the end of last season and we had to try our best. The group gelled together well and we’ve had goals from different positions while playing plenty of attacking football.
Much of that attacking play developed through midfielder Paul O’Conor, who secured promotion with a brace against his old club UCD.
“Paul is renowned for scoring goals. He gets in the box and he’s there. It’s good for him, he was one of many in Ballybofey last year feeling the hurt. Sunday was a brighter day for him and the club in general.”
And while Russell is can relax in the knowledge his primary target for the season has been achieved, there will be no let-up with an EA Sports Cup final against St Patrick’s Athletic looming.
“We’ll look to have a go off next season but we still have the rest of this season, we have an EA Cup final to look forward to and we’ll have to do our best to keep our unbeaten run in the league going as well.”