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Limerick's recovery starts to take shape

Eoin Dunne ONLY 25 years ago Limerick FC were at the pinnacle of Irish domestic football. Having won the league championship under Eoin Hand, they went on to play Spanish giants Real Madrid in the European Cup.

Des Kennedy scored twice in one of the games against their aristocratic opponents and that equated to half the number of goals that Madrid conceded in the whole competition, where they eventually lost in the final to Liverpool.

The following year Limerick took on Southampton in the UEFA Cup and managed to grind out a highly commendable draw at the Dell against a team that contained the likes of Kevin Keegan and Mick Channon.

In those days Market's Field was the spiritual home of the club and the decision to move across the city to Hogan Park in 1984 was greeted with a scepticism that has since been proven well-founded.

The loss of a base and subsequent nomadic existence signalled a decline in the club's fortunes.

There have been fleeting renaissances, namely a Sam Allardyce-inspired First Division title in 1992 and a League Cup win 10 years later, but playing in front of crowds touching 250 in the grounds of junior club Pike Rovers and finishing bottom of the Eircom League the season before last could have sounded a death knell for the club.

Instead a recovery has been spawned.

The club has a new chairman in the shape of Danny Drew and Noel O'Connor was installed as manager last season prompting an improvement of 28 points in the league.

Now, as Limerick face their first pre-season friendly against Shelbourne on Saturday, one of the biggest names in the domestic game, Pat Dolan, is in discussions about joining the club.

Success has followed Dolan wherever he has gone in management. A League Championship with St Pat's was followed by Cork's re-emergence and a huge contribution to Waterford's Houdini-like escape from relegation last season.

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The sight of Dolan and O'Connor, his former number two at Cork, working in tandem again would be a welcome boost for the city's soccer fraternity.

The team have been bolstered in recent weeks by the signing of the versatile Kevin Waters from Waterford together with the re-signing of powerful centre-half Pat Purcell, also from the Suirsiders.

Add those signings to talented players such as Robbie Kelliher and Tommy Barrett, top scorer last season, and there is the nucleus of a quality side emerging.

But off-the-field issues are proving to be the main stumbling block for Dolan's move and still it is the lack of a permanent home that is causing issue.

At present Hogan Park is in the possession of its benefactor Peter Hogan, who lives in America.

Limerick FC have leased the grounds from him through an intermediary, Fr Joe Young, but in legal terms the short-term nature of the lease is not in accordance with the appropriate regulations.

As a result there is ?500,000 worth of grants that Limerick cannot draw from.

It is an issue that is essential for the future of the club and one that is frantically trying to be addressed behind the scenes. With a home secured, sponsorship and media exposure could really bring the club forward quickly. "What's important now is that other people around Limerick, in terms of the business community or politicians, anyone who can help us sort out the lease, which can only be great for the city, gets behind us," said manager O'Connor.

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