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Friday January 24, 2020

Limerick FC: How did it come to this?

courtesy of RTE

Pat O'Sullivan during the 2015 season where Limerick almost avoided relegation

The news that Limerick FC are heading for extinction has come as little surprise.

Many will ask how it came to this, with the answer not found within the overall crisis in Irish football, but more within the dysfunctional nature of the club and how it was run.

Since entering senior football in 1937, Limerick have been known as “United”, “City”, “37” and the hope is there will be another guise to come in 2021.

This time, they have blown one of their best chances of genuine success.

Businessman Pat O’Sullivan became involved with Limerick in 2009 after several years of struggle. In early 2010, he took control of the club and planned huge investment, with the aim of promoting a positive ideal and image of the city.

He said: “My reason for saving Limerick soccer was driven by a number of factors, including using sport to change the perception of Limerick at the time, which had significant ongoing anti-social issues.”

It was an admirable stance and he backed it up.

Promotion was soon achieved and a managerial change followed with Stuart Taylor, who has since carved out a career in England as part of Paul Lambert’s staff at Stoke City and now Ipswich Town, appointed manager.

The likes of Phil Brown, Les Ferdinand and ex-England boss Peter Taylor had been linked to the role.

A number of players from the UK were signed to varying degrees of success, but they never troubled the top sides.

The club was considered an attractive proposition, offering full-time football and good wages in a culture not seen at many clubs in the country.

They had also moved into Thomond Park, which was mostly empty but offered a good setting to play in at least.

O’Sullivan also purchased a training complex in Bruff.

He said at the time: “My wife Helen has backed me on this project. She kicks every ball with me, I need her support and I get it, and that’s very important for me. As appreciation of her support to me, we have called it the Kirby O’Sullivan Sports, Social and Business Park.”

Taylor departed after failing to kick on in his second season, leaving the club eighth in the top flight after 18 games.

Russell maintained Limerick’s place in the Premier Division but within months the budget was dramatically cut by O’Sullivan, seemingly irked by watching funds drain away for mid-table monotony.

In February 2015 he said: “The O’Sullivan family and their company, the club’s main sponsor Galtee Fuels, have made it clear that they can no longer continue to fund the club to the level that they have in the past number of seasons.

“This requires that the club must now learn to live within its means. I am committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability of Limerick senior soccer, which brings many social benefits to our community.”

Unsurprisingly, Limerick struggled and they went 21 games without a win.

But a stunning revival over three months, having increased the budget in the middle of the season, saw them complete a remarkable escape as they beat Sligo Rovers 3-2 on the final day of the normal league season to earn a play-off with First Division side Finn Harps.

Despite a 1-0 win in the first leg, Limerick were relegated and left everyone scratching their heads over how it came to do this.

Limerick had returned to their spiritual home of the Markets Field with the assistance of JP McManus, a key move into trying to get the club back to its former glory.

Further eyebrows were raised when O’Sullivan commissioned a big budget when down in the First Division.

Paul O’Conor, Aaron Greene, Shane Duggan and Lee Lynch were among the stars in a squad that won 24 of their 28 games and lost just once as they finished 23 points ahead of Drogheda United. They also reached the final of the EA Sports Cup.

Limerick were back in the top flight but by now their footballing decisions, and spending, were erratic.

Behind the scenes, relations were reportedly becoming strained between O’Sullivan and manager Russell and he left after just six games of their return to the Premier Division.

Russell said the departure had been amicable.


Neil McDonald, formerly Sam Allardyce’s number two at Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United, came in and promised to make the Blues an “A star club”.

“I’m very, very impressed with what the club is trying to do and how it’s trying to progress,” said the new boss.

“I’m sure it’s one of the clubs in Ireland that is on the up. I would like to be part of that to push it on to a new level – that’s why I’ve come. I’ve committed myself to the club on a long-term project.

“Everybody I’ve spoken to and I’ve been involved with since I came across on Monday speaks very, very highly of the football club.

“We’re trying to push Limerick into being an A-star football club, all the way through from youth to first team.

“The aspirations of where they want to get to is a great project and certainly one that I want to be heavily involved with, to leave a legacy and push the club to boundaries that they’ve been before.”

Limerick stayed up by five points and reached an FAI Cup semi-final but on the first day of 2018 pre-season, McDonald informed the club he was leaving to take up the assistant manager role with Scunthorpe United.

Tommy Barrett was promoted from Under-19 boss, and offered a steady hand, but the writing was on the wall.

O’Sullivan issued to a statement to say he wanted to secure investors or sell the club

“At this moment in time, I am in discussion with a number of parties with a view to selling an interest in the club. That may mean 100%, but certainly, it will ensure a majority share.”

He stated that the club needed €500,000 a year to fund itself.

That didn’t materialise and O’Sullivan retained ownership. Wages failed to arrive on time.

Goalkeeping coach Eddie Hickey, along with players, departed the club, saying “I was charged €240 in unpaid standing order fees last year.”

O’Sullivan’s company, Galtee Fuels, went into voluntary liquidation, hindering him further in trying to keep the ship afloat.

The Blues were consigned to the relegation play-off with a long time left in the year and eventually relegated, which almost came as a relief given their perilous finances.

Two takeover attempts failed and another emerged with former League of Ireland manager Sean Connor representing one of them.

Another led by Donal Magee said they “have been unable to come to an amicable agreement with the club to pursue a takeover. Regrettably we feel the terms and valuation put forward to us are unworkable and our belief is that the valuation of the club is unreasonable.”

O’Sullivan released a statement in April, lauding underfire FAI chief executive John Delaney.

It read: “”His election to the UEFA Executive committee is a testament to the high regard he is held within the game in Europe and while this is a great honour for John, it is also recognition of the game and our National Association.”

Wages again failed to materialise throughout 2019, while midfielder Sean Russell said in an interview that an operation he required on a serious knee injury could not be funded by the club. Supporters of Limerick raised over €4,000 assist the player. Strike action was also threatened.

News of a match-fixing investigation allegation surfaced in September and after Limerick entered examinership due to mounting debts, they were fined 26 points to end the season bottom of the Premier Division.

Today comes news of their demise, a process that has happened from poor decisions on and off the pitch and an apparent unwillingness to let go of the club.

O’Sullivan, according to the Limerick Leader, said at today’s hearing in Ennis Circuit Court that he had invested up to €7m in the club in his decade there and quickly changed his tune on the FAI from months earlier when speaking about John Delaney.

Company debts are €490,000 and a licence has not been granted from the FAI to O’Sullivan to run Limerick FC in 2020.

He said: “It is scandalous the way the FAI has treated me. No other club has been put through the process of having to jump all these hurdlers before we get an opportunity to apply for a licence.”

“The FAI have put every obstacle in the way of the club and ultimately what will happen is that the club will have to just fold and Pat O’Sullivan is out of sight and out of mind.”

Out of sight will be Limerick’s future in 2020 but for their fans it will be far from out of mind.

The owner added he would walk away “because it was always about how could we make Limerick better through sport”.

That process started to great success but ends in the worst possible way today.

Katie Taylor camp set sights on three headline bouts in 2020

courtesy of RTE

Katie Taylor is unbeaten in 15 professional fights

Katie Taylor is targeting fights with welterweight champion Cecilia Brækhus, formidable American Amanda Serrano as well as a rematch with Delfine Persoon in 2020.

The Bray boxer made history in June by unifying all four world lightweight titles with a hard-fought, narrow victory over Delfine Persoon at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Last month Taylor moved up in weight to become only Ireland’s third two-weight world champion with a unanimous points victory over Christina Linardatou.

It moves Taylor’s professional record to 15-0 in little over three years and her manager Brian Peters outlined to RTÉ Sport’s Darren Frehill their targets for 2020.

Unbeaten in 36 professional fights, Braekhus recently made the tenth defence of her world welterweight title when she easily overcame Victoria Bustos – a former Taylor opponent – in Monte Carlo.

Puerto Rican southpaw Serrano has previously tuned down advances from the Taylor camp, yet boasts a record of 27 knockouts in 37 pro fights, tasting defeat on just one occasion.

The 31-year-old has collected titles in more weight divisions – seven – than any other female in history, while a rematch with Persoon is also on the cards.

“Amanda Serrano is what we want next, ideally in April. She has declined a couple of times,” he said.

“A Persoon re-match is a fight we would very much love. People tend to forget sometimes, these rematches, they don’t happen straight away.

“The big fight then is Cecilia Braekhus. She is the champion, 147lbs, holds all the belts, what a fight that is, two undisputed champions.”

Reflecting on an incredible 2019, Peters said that the win over Persoon in New York, to unify her weight division, was an occasion to savour.

“After her fifth pro fight, Katie wanted to fight Persoon. I said we would let it build a little more, get a bit more experience.

“She looked at me, and pointed, and said, ‘you make sure I’m the one that beats her’. She didn’t want anyone else beating her.

“The undisputed [fight] was certainly the pinnacle, that was fantastic. It was a great fight, it had drama, action and skill, and what a stage.”

Katie is an extraordinary, ordinary individual

Taylor, who has been nominated for the 2019 RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year award, continues to break new ground with her exploits in the ring and Peters again paid tribute to the fighter’s character and her ability to flick a switch when she gets in between the ropes.

“She is an extraordinary, ordinary individual, which I know is a contradiction. She herself is a contradiction.

“The Katie you meet outside the ring and the Katie inside the ring are two different people. It’s like a contradiction.

“The continued sacrifice is phenomenal.

“She is very witty, charming and a humble, a lot of good old fashioned qualities that are missing today.”

Three Ireland end sponsorship deal with FAI

courtesy of RTE

Three Ireland have sponsored the national soccer team since 2010

 

 

 

Three Ireland has confirmed it will not be renewing its sponsorship of the Republic of Ireland soccer teams.

They first came on board as primary sponsors of Ireland’s international squads in the summer of 2010 in an agreement that was worth €7.5m over four years to the FAI.

Three last renewed their deal four years ago; that package was worth €8.9m.

However, 24 hours before the FAI are set to belatedly release their annual accounts for 2018, the company have confirmed they will not be extending their sponsorship beyond this summer.

The association has endured a tumultuous 2019 in the wake of revelations that former chief executive John Delaney had loaned the FAI €100,000.

Delaney has since left but Sport Ireland funding has been withheld and the Minister for Sport Shane Ross this week reiterated his call for “regime change” at the embattled association.

In a statement, the mobile phone operator say they are withdrawing from sports sponsorship entirely.

“Three has been a supporter of Irish football for 10 years with €30m invested in the game through our sponsorship fee and activations,” said the company’s Chief Commercial Officer Elaine Carey.

“Three has made the decision not to renew its sponsorship of Irish football when the current contract comes to an end at the end of July 2020.

“Having recently reviewed our full sponsorship portfolio, we have decided to consolidate our sponsorship investment in the area of music.

“At Three, we are entirely focused on supporting the Irish men’s team through what we hope will be an exciting and successful qualification for the UEFA European Football Championship and the Irish women’s team in their qualification journey for the UEFA Women’s European Championship.

“We also wish the Irish teams at every level the very best in the future.”

 

Jim Gavin steps down as Dublin manager

courtesy of RTE

Jim Gavin has departed after seven years in charge of the Dublin senior footballers

 

Jim Gavin has stepped down as Dublin senior football manager after seven years in charge.

In a statement this afternoon, Dublin GAA said that Gavin had “informed county officers, his management team and the players that he was handing back the reins of the Dublin senior football team to the county committee.”

Gavin, an All-Ireland winner as a player in 1995, joined the coaching setup of the Dublin U21s in 2003, one year after his retirement, helping them to their first All-Ireland title at the grade.

He later managed the U21s from 2008 to 2012, guiding them to All-Ireland titles in 2010 and 2012.

He succeeded Pat Gilroy as Dublin senior football manager in October 2012 and has since presided over a period of unprecedented success.

In seven seasons under Gavin, Dublin have won six All-Ireland titles, five National league titles and seven Leinster titles.

Of the 21 major trophies that Gavin’s Dublin contested during his reign, the capital won 18 of them. He managed Dublin in 48 championship matches since his first campaign in 2013, winning 44 of them, drawing three and losing only one.

He departs having just managed Dublin to a historic five in a row in the All-Ireland senior football championship.

Dublin chairman Sean Shanley said that “Dublin GAA will be forever grateful to Jim Gavin for his dedication, commitment and contribution as a player and, since 2003, leading the next generation of players at U21 and Senior level.

“I regret his departure but appreciate the huge sacrifices he has made over this period.

“The committee will commence the process of considering suitable candidates to replace Jim and his management team shortly.”

Liverpool want to host GAA games at expanded Anfield

courtesy of RTE

Proposed plans for an expanded Anfield Road End. Photo: LiverpoolFC.com

 

Liverpool have aired a desire to host GAA matches at an expanded Anfield after unveiling plans to increase the size of their Anfield Road stand by adding 7,000 seats to take the ground’s capacity up to 61,000.

The Merseysiders want to explore the possibility of gaining permanent permission to hold concerts and other major events at the famous stadium, and sporting events outside soccer – including Gaelic games and American football.

Existing planning permission, which had proposed an increase of 4,800, has been allowed to lapse and a new, larger proposal looks set to be formally submitted next spring after two phases of public consultation, the first of which has just begun.

It is understood the scheme will cost in the region of £60m and, unlike the Main Stand refurbishment which was paid for through a £115m loan secured by owners Fenway Sports Group, the money for this project will come from refinancing at a local level.

There is no timescale as yet for the completion of the new stand, which will have small hospitality capacity, with the majority of seats outlined for general admission tickets, and no further development is being considered at this time.

The new plans are on the footprint of the old planning application but a redesign has allowed an increased capacity. The work will mean the partial closure of Anfield Road outside the stadium.

“We are looking at an extra 7,000 seats in the Anfield Road, the old planning application was for 4,800,” Liverpool’s chief operating officer Andy Hughes said.

“They are draft numbers at this stage and there is still a lot of work to do but it would take overall capacity of Anfield up to 61,000. We are currently just over 54,000.

“There is a limited amount of room behind Anfield Road at the moment so there is a short section of road which we will need to close.

“The overall footprint of the build and the overall height is very similar to the the original planning application and that also included a partial closure of Anfield Road.

“There is a limited amount of space if you look at the constraints of the site and the Anfield stadium itself and we have spent a long period of time trying to figure out the best design and how we could get more capacity into the stand.

“I’m not saying it is exactly 61,000 but it is there or thereabouts and it is hard to see where it will go much further than that.”

Hughes added: “The plans for the proposed Anfield Road Stand expansion include exploring the opportunity for permanent permission to hold concerts and other major events at Anfield, including other sporting events such as Gaelic games and American football outside of the matchday calendar.”

The GAA have said they have no plans to host matches at Anfield, which has a 101-metre long pitch, considerably shorter than the 130 metres minimum required for Gaelic football or hurling.

However the Super 11s hurling format has been played at Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, who share an owner – FSG – with Liverpool.

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