Tommy Barrett admits it is a daunting task for his young squad facing title favourites Dundalk in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division at the Markets Field on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm) but he is hopeful that they can give a good account of themselves against the league leaders.
The Shannonsiders are facing into back-to-back games against Dundalk, with a quarter-final tie in the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup to come next weekend, and Barrett knows that they enter both with the odds stacked against them.
Ten of Barrett’s 18-man matchday squad for Friday’s fixture are 21 or under, with seven of those still eligible for Under-19 football, while injuries have left the manager’s training sessions depleted.
Eoin Wearen – who exited with a jarred knee after just nine minutes of the Cup win over Cabinteely last week – is awaiting results of a scan with a possible timeframe of 4-5 weeks on the sidelines. Another versatile member of the squad, Kilian Cantwell, continues to struggle with a groin injury.
Those two are among Barrett’s most experienced players. His regular frontline is led by Connor Ellis (21), flanked by Will Fitzgerald (19) and Karl O’Sullivan (18), while at the back the likes of goalkeeper Tommy Holland and centre-half Killian Brouder (both 20) are now certain starters.
Times are tough for Limerick, made tougher by the unkind draw which fell their way last Monday as their progression to the last eight of the FAI Cup for the second-year running was rewarded with a clash with the finalists of the last three seasons.
Dundalk, to add to it, are a wounded animal approaching this game having seen their 13-match winning streak and unbeaten run controversially ended at the death of their back fixture against Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Tuesday night.
“Dundalk are disappointed after that,” Barrett knows, speaking to LimerickFC.ie ahead of their visit, for which the club have reduced tickets to Category B pricing with the aim of increasing the low attendances at the Markets Field.
“We are in a difficult position in the league. We need to try to get points on the board. But we are working with a very young squad. Ten of our 18 players are 21 or under, with seven of those Under-19s and two of them just out of Under-19s.
“We have a couple of injuries at the moment which are making things even more difficult for us. We had just 15 players training during the week. It’s not making excuses but people need to know where we are at, and tests do not come any tougher than this Friday. At the same time, it’s a good challenge for us – a really difficult one.
“Dundalk are a top-class outfit, they’re top of the league, they have players we could only dream of being able to afford, and they’re just off the back of a run of 13 league wins. It’s a huge ask for our players to go out and get a result, but all we can do is go out and try our best, which we will do.”
To get that desired result, Limerick must also change the course of history. Since winning at Oriel Park under Stuart Taylor in September 2013, the Shannonsiders have drawn one and lost 11 of their subsequent 12 meetings. This year, they have been on the end of 8-0, 3-0 and 4-0 defeats.
Limerick have also lost four of their last five league games, the exception coming in the centre against Waterford at the Markets Field where they won 2-1. Their two defeats since then, 5-0 at Bohemians and 3-1 at home to Sligo Rovers, leave them with little hope of preserving their Premier Division status directly through the league.
While Limerick’s home form has been inconsistent at best, Dundalk have won seven-in-a-row on the road in the league, going back to a 2-1 loss at Waterford in early May.
The task facing Limerick is clear, but the boss hopes a bigger crowd will turn out to support his team. “I can understand why the attendance was low last week – we are obviously disappointed with it but it was to be expected, in a way, after the hurlers’ success,” Tommy said. “It would be great if the supporters can come out and get behind us this week. We need all the help we can get.”
Team News: Limerick manager Tommy Barrett can welcome back hometown captain Shane Duggan from suspension, but he could be without Kilian Cantwell (groin) to add to the absence of fellow defender Eoin Wearen (knee). Darren Dennehy (ankle) remains a long-term absentee.
Preview: Thursday 30 August 2018