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  • Soccer

Split decision could determine Nenagh’s season

Thursday, 20th August, 2020 12:04pm
Split decision could determine Nenagh’s season

James McGrath returns to the Nenagh AFC squad for the coming season

Split decision could determine Nenagh’s season

James McGrath returns to the Nenagh AFC squad for the coming season

SOCCER: Limerick District League 2020/21 Season Preview

 

 

By Thomas Conway

 

The 2019/20 instalment of the Limerick District League will forever remain frozen in time, following the decision last June to terminate all competitions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some clubs will understandably have felt aggrieved by the premature end, particularly those which had success or promotion in their sights. Relegation contenders were handed a valuable reprieve, but for the likes of Nenagh AFC, which were hovering slightly above the relegation zone but not far off the top-end of the table either, the closing stages of the 2019/20 season could have evolved in any direction.

The opening stages of the 2020/21 season look similarly unpredictable, but newly appointed Nenagh AFC head coach Cillian Fitzpatrick, is optimistic about his side’s prospects.

Despite a number of injuries and what could be described as a heavily depleted squad – relative to previous years, Fitzpatrick, along with his brother Oisín, and another Nenagh AFC stalwart Jordan Lewis, will probably rank as the youngest managerial unit in the Limerick District Premier League this season.

Though each have considerable coaching experience and won’t feel intimidated by the challenge. The junior set-up has attracted huge numbers over the course of the pre-season – to the extent that Nenagh initially considered fielding three adult sides, although this has been scaled back to two after a slight drop in numbers.

“The numbers we’ve had have been unbelievable,” Fitzpatrick said.

“We’ve had more than fifty players show up over the course of pre-season. People were just very excited to get back, and especially after the lockdown, they just wanted to get out on the field.

“Based on the numbers we had at the start, the plan was to have three teams, but we’re only going to go with two teams now. But myself, Oisín (Fitzpatrick) and Jordan Lewis have been running the pre-season as a collective with all the players. And Darren O’Gorman is there as well, he has an advisory role.”

Considering the struggle Limerick has faced to sustain a League of Ireland club, it seems almost remarkable that the junior club scene has remained so competitive, consistently sending teams deep into the FAI and Munster Junior Cups. That high standard was the reason Nenagh AFC opted to join the Limerick District League in 2015, announcing their arrival by cruising to the Division 1A title in 2015/16 and achieving Premier League status. They featured in the title-race the following year, but that initial honeymoon period seems to have faded somewhat in the period since.

No longer considered outsiders by some of their long-established competitors in league, Fitzpatrick has taken charge of a Nenagh side which, in many ways, oozes potential – containing players which have previously proven their ability at youth and adult level. The same could be said of most clubs within the league, however. Ballynanty Rovers appeared to be on course for the title when activity was halted last March, their challenge led by 23-year-old former Limerick FC striker Connor Ellis.

Other heavyweights such as Fairview Rangers and Aisling Annacotty also have a dangerous front line – the two clubs are now set to meet one another in the final of the 2019/20 Munster Junior Cup, having won their respective semi-finals last Sunday.

As Fitzpatrick explains, a new league structure will force every team to hit the ground running, so building early-season momentum will be crucial. Ultimately, the first few weeks could determine the course of Nenagh’s season.    

“We’re currently missing ten from our first-team squad, injuries and lads away, all that stuff. But we’re still optimistic. I think the issue we’re going to face is that the league splits after you play each team once, the top six and the bottom six. So, starting off, the first few games over the first few weeks are going to be very important. They’ll decide how the rest of the season is going to go,” Fitzpatrick said.

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