How the vision for a new Limerick FC disappeared

Like most League of Ireland projects, Pat O’Sullivan’s venture with his hometown club of Limerick ended in failure.

How the vision for a new Limerick FC disappeared

Like most League of Ireland projects, Pat O’Sullivan’s venture with his hometown club of Limerick ended in failure.

Romanticists of the domestic product like to claim the only barrier to thriving is investment, but O’Sullivan’s €7m outlay over a decade still couldn’t keep them afloat.

As he admitted himself, the Foynes man didn't even have an interest in football when he was alerted to an emergency meeting at the Kilmurry Hotel in Castletroy. The one and only item on the agenda was the survival of the club and O’Sullivan heard enough about their plight at the appeal to put his hand up from the crowd.

A successful businessman from the fuel sector, the pensioner possessed the conscience to realise social gain from spearheading a sporting cause in a city plagued by a certain reputation was rife to explore.

His in-law JP McManus had chosen his beloved hurling to initiate a similar venture.

And, unlike most League of Ireland rescue packages, O’Sullivan was prepared to bankroll it in full.

He laid out a few pillars to his vision. The first-team’s nomadic trend had to be finally ended and the move back to their spiritual home of the Markets Field, albeit delayed due to upgrading works, was delivered in 2015. Equally uppermost in his thoughts was creating a viable underage structure and a training ground to match.

Then Ireland boss Martin O’Neill was the star guest in 2014 for their launch of plans of locating to a site in Bruff.

By that stage, O’Sullivan had repaired relations with the FAI. Arranging a glamour friendly at Thomond Park formed a cornerstone of his his first year’s business-plan but efforts to secure the visit by Barcelona were thwarted by the governing body.

Legal action was duly launched and O’Sullivan cut a content figure at the outcome of mediation.

Results were similarly erratic on the pitch. Two promotions from the First Division were achieved, along with an appearance in the 2015 EA Sports Cup final, but Lims became known as a yo-yo team.

Attendances, too, followed an unpredictable pattern. From the highs of 4,000 turnouts to lows of 90 per cent less, the support typically matched the success or otherwise of the team.

O’Sullivan also endured a mixed relationship with the hardcore fans, imposing bans on some in the aftermath of alleged abusive chants.

The veteran owner himself could often be witnessed at home games trying to cajole the crowd or leaning over the perimeter fence screaming at referees. It was all part of his colourful character, one admired and ridiculed along varying milestones of his ownership.

In 2015, as another relegation beckoned, he revealed a brainwave for recruiting Greek players was triggered from watching the movie Shirley Valentine.

It was around that juncture when the first cracks in the club’s financial model appeared.

Delayed wages developed into a recurrent concern, leading to a threatened strike by players in the summer of 2018.

Declining attendances and sponsorship made cash tight and most of their full-time professionals departed midseason still owed money.

O’Sullivan officially had Limerick up for sale, publicly stating another €500,000 per annum was required to faciliating a tilt at European qualification, but talks with a few different consortiums ran aground.

Manager Tommy Barrett attributed the blame for their troubles to a wider problem beyond O’Sullivan.

“Football is well down the pecking order to other sports in Limerick,” he noted. “We used have a major soccer school in CBS Sexton. These days, it’s all rugby and hurling schools. People forget that Limerick were 18 years in the First Division before Pat put his own money in.

“The starting costs to run a club, before you pay a player or kick a ball, is nearly €200,000 per year. I’m not sure if there’s an appetite out there from new investors given the lack of interest at ground level in the county.”

Unfortunately, his pessimism was vindicated, probably applying the last rites to the latest iteration of Limerick’s football club.

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