Saturday 26 May 2018

Dominant Dundalk expose extent of Limerick's problems

Limerick 0 Dundalk 3

17 April 2018; Michael Duffy of Dundalk, centre, celebrates with team-mates Patrick Hoban and Jamie McGrath after scoring his side's third goal during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between Limerick FC and Dundalk at the Markets Field in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
17 April 2018; Michael Duffy of Dundalk, centre, celebrates with team-mates Patrick Hoban and Jamie McGrath after scoring his side's third goal during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between Limerick FC and Dundalk at the Markets Field in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THIS win for Dundalk was never in doubt. By contrast, Limerick’s direction is deeply uncertain.

And that goes beyond this result. Stephen Kenny’s table-toppers are a superior operation resources wise and they were able to overcome a bumpy surface to take the three points and move on without that much fuss.

Limerick’s overall situation is troubling. Clearly, a run of nine winless games in all competitions is chipping away at morale.

The bizarre feel around this game also wasn’t helped by the fact that it clashed with a significant round of local junior fixtures in the locality.

Such clashes are inevitable in this hectic run of games that is hard on players and supporters alike. Crowds always suffer for midweek fixtures.

That doesn’t quite explain the curious mood around Limerick compared to the buzz that was generated by their valiant attempt to avoid relegation in 2015 and their dominant promotion campaign a year later.

For the home play-off with Finn Harps in 2015, they struggled to put an estimate on the final figure but it was closer to 5,000. The home contingent for this encounter was around a tenth of that.

There is an interest there, yet they have drifted away. The atmosphere was muted last night, with the shouts of an angry few clearly audible to all. It merged with gallows humour, and made for an unsettling atmosphere.

“What are you celebrating for Hoban?” shouted a home fan after Dundalk striker Patrick nodded the game’s second goal. “You’re only scoring against a bunch of f**king eejits.”

The deterioration of the surface, a product of the regular use of the Markets Field for rugby purposes, has chipped away at the entertainment value.

Owner Pat O’Sullivan has been open about the need for investment as he can’t keep things going by himself for much longer. There is potential there, but the fear is that they are one bad season away from really slipping into bother again.

And this is going to be a bad season. Neil McDonald’s departure on day one of pre-season kicked it all off. Local man Tommy Barrett has inherited a difficult brief, but they are shaping up for a straight shoot-out to avoid the drop with Bray – and their old boss Martin Russell.

Maybe the prospect of relegation will stir the club back into life as it did during Russell’s tenure because it’s an unhappy place right now.

Dundalk are operating at a different level, and Kenny’s team were able to travel down on Monday and stay over in order to prepare professionally.

They sprung out of the blocks purposefully against a team that had tasted defeat to Sligo Rovers here on Saturday – 24 hours after Dundalk’s laboured win in Bray.

Hoban and John Mountney struck in that encounter, and they were on target again before the interval. It was the latter that broke the deadlock in his 150th league outing for the Lilywhites, rising highest to dispatch a Michael Duffy cross.

The clincher came on the half hour mark with a mazy Robbie Benson and cross leaving Hoban with a simple task.

Dundalk had knocked eight past Limerick in their previous meeting at Oriel Park and that never looked likely here with the stiff breeze an obstacle to flowing attacking play.

It favoured the hosts slightly in the second 45 and they mustered up an effort from the restart but Dundalk coped comfortably and pressed on to force errors and add a third with Duffy finishing emphatically.

Limerick are not completely without hope. New addition Conor Clifford is still finding his way and will improve. Youngster Will Fitzgerald definitely has ability.

Connor Ellis did force a stop from the returning Gary Rogers but a collective return of five goals from 12 matches sums up their main problem.

With the points in the bag, Kenny was able to withdraw Hoban, Benson and Duffy in order to preserve their energy for the stiffer tests over the horizon with in-form Derry in Oriel Park on Friday. For Limerick, every match promises to be a struggle.

Limerick – Clarke; Kelly (K O’Sullivan 59), Brouder, Whitehead, Cantwell; Clifford, Duggan (Wearen 55); Fitzgerald, Coleman (Maguire 83), B Dennehy; Ellis

Dundalk – Rogers; Gannon, Hoare, Folan, Massey; Shields, Benson (O’Donnell 73); Mountney, McGrath, Duffy; (Connolly 79) Hoban (Tagbajumi 64)

ref – D McGrath (Mayo)

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