Martin Russell knows the next three games can be “rewarding”, ahead of an FAI Cup tie and two important league clashes, with the Limerick manager admitting it is a “crucial time” for his side.
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The Shannonsiders have been in unstoppable form so far this season, winning 14 games on the bounce between league and EA SPORTS Cup competition, with a semi-final to look forward to in the latter in August.
They have opened up a 12-point lead at the top of the SSE Airtricity League First Division, but before the midseason break they put their Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup hopes on the line and face the two teams directly behind them in the table – closest rivals Drogheda United and, first, third-placed Shelbourne.
Foremost in Russell’s mind, though, is the visit of Bluebell United to the Markets Field on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 2pm), for a last-32 tie which is reversed from the original draw.
Bluebell – with a number of ex-League of Ireland players in their ranks – brought Bray Wanderers, in the EA SPORTS Cup, and UCD, in the Leinster Senior Cup, to extra-time last month before bowing out in both. They are also on course to retain their league title.
And all that means two-time FAI Cup winners Limerick – successful in 1971 and 1982 – will be taking nothing for granted.
“This little period between now and the break is a crucial time with the FAI Cup and then obviously two big league games,” Russell told LimerickFC.ie.
“They’re exciting games. They’re games that we want to do well in and games that will be rewarding if we do well. We’re looking forward to them; first and foremost is to get over the Bluebell game with a victory.
“We’ve said our number one priority is promotion but after that we want to do well in the major cup competitions. The FAI Cup is rewarding in a number of ways.
“Bluebell have a number of players who have played in the league and are still hungry to do well in their football. This season, they have taken UCD and Bray to extra-time and scored goals against both of them.
“We’re under no illusion that we’re going to have to play well to get into the next round but that’s our objective and that’s what we’ll always try to do.
“We have some injuries and doubts but the rest of the lads who have played in recent games are good to go and it’s their opportunity to go and do well for the club.”
Reflecting on last weekend’s 3-0 league win at home to Athlone Town, Martin added: “In hindsight, we probably took a little bit longer in getting on the scoresheet than other games.
“But to be 3-0 winners, get a clean-sheet and also create a number of other chances again, I think the performance in ways was satisfactory. Considering again the players that weren’t available too, it shows we have squad members that can come in and are able to put up a level of performance that gave us a vital win.”
The Shannonsiders – who are set to wear their green kit at the Markets Field – will kick-off at the unusual time of 2pm, but Russell is hoping another big support turns out.
“It’s not the norm but the main thing again is that we come to the Markets Field which is in great condition,” Martin said. “The weather should be okay, hopefully our fans turn out and we can put in another good performance.”
Limerick are on an eight-game winning streak at the Markets Field, including four clean-sheets in their last five outings there, where Premier Division sides Wexford Youths and Galway United have fallen in the EA SPORTS Cup over the past month.
Bluebell are three points clear at the top of the Leinster Senior League, their title charge remaining on course with a 2-0 win at Glenville – who Limerick knocked out of the 2013 FAI Cup – on Wednesday night.
When Limerick last won the FAI Cup, in ’82, they defeated Bluebell in the opening round on a 1-0 scoreline thanks to a Tommy Gaynor goal. In the 2010 competition, Bluebell brought Cork City to a third-round replay following a 1-1 draw at Turner’s Cross before exiting in the replay after a 1-0 defeat at the Carlisle Grounds in Bray.
Team News: Limerick will once again have to contend without long-term absentees defender Séamus Sharkey (head) and midfielder Garbhán Coughlan (knee), while captain Shane Duggan (calf) and forward Aaron Greene (groin) are again doubtful.
Officials: Referee for the game is Kevin O’Regan, his assistants are Dermot Broughton and Pat Gleeson with the fourth official Robert Hennessy.
A reminder that Season Tickets are NOT valid for this game due to FAI Cup Competition rules. Ticket booths and gates open at 1pm on Saturday.
Preview Date: Friday 20 May 2016