It was eight years ago this month that I covered my first Limerick FC match, studiously recounting a 3-0 home win over Finn Harps in the First Division for the audience of the Limerick Leader. It was the first of many Blues games on which I would report throughout the 2010s, in that time witnessing some glorious and grim moments, as well as some frankly bizarre scenes which might not look out of place on Soccer AM.
Here are 10 of my standout memories from covering football in Limerick over the last number of years:
- The quaintness of Jackman Park
In my first few months covering Limerick games, I was dispatched to Jackman Park, a time-honoured venue near the city’s train station where the media would congregate on the upper floor of a two-storey structure behind one of the goals. There were metaphorical and physical obstacles to the job, with a lack of power points and in-house WiFi, along with some of the front wall literally blocking one’s view of the game – pray that you got in early enough to avoid that spot.
Limerick also played in Jackman Park for a brief spell in the 2015 season and the absence of power points, created a rather undesirable situation one night. In the closing minutes of a 2-0 defeat by Derry of a Monday night, and my copy due to a national newspaper at the final whistle, my laptop battery went. I watched stoppage time standing up and bolted to the car rapidly at the whistle, breaking speed limits (and possibly a red light or two) en route to my rented accommodation a five-minute drive away. The copy got filed and published but not before phone calls came my way demanding its immediate submission.
- Football royalty at Thomond Park
Limerick moved to Thomond Park for their first couple of seasons back in the Premier Division in 2013 and 2014, with their first match back in the top flight a televised affair against Cork City – cue the presence of ex-League of Ireland managers Pat Dolan and Brian Kerr in the press room that bitterly cold Sunday afternoon.
Seven months previously, Manchester City rocked up for a friendly as we got a first-hand glimpse of names such as Roberto Mancini, James Milner, Samir Nasri, and Edin Dzeko. In 2016, Celtic and Inter Milan played an International Champions Cup game at the venue and I got into the post-match press conference with Brendan Rodgers and Frank de Boer. The former stunned us all by saying that the only two players he agonised over selling were Luis Suarez and… Doris de Vries. I had a question lined up for the latter but chickened out of asking it because it sounded stupid in my head. Thirty seconds later, someone asked him the same question. Regrets, I have some…
- That Robbie Williams headline
Not long after Limerick confirmed that they would be playing at Thomond Park (which is also occasionally used for concerts), the Blues signed English Football League stalwart Robbie Williams. After I wrote a piece on the transfer for the Limerick Post, the sports editor came up with the brilliant and accurate headline of ‘Robbie Williams agrees to play at Thomond Park’.
On the morning that the edition in question came out, I arrived at my desk to an email from someone saying “Regarding your article headlined ‘Robbie Williams agrees to play at Thomond Park’…have you any idea how misleading this title is? I thought THE SINGER was coming to Thomand Park” [sic]. Yep, the venue was misspelt in her email – and the top of the page unmistakably identified it as the Sport section. I showed it to the sports editor and he roared laughing.
- Sweet respite on a bitterly cold night
One of Limerick’s first home games at Thomond Park was against St Patrick’s Athletic early in the 2013 season. True to form, it was a bloody cold Saturday night at the home of Munster Rugby – so much so that, when answering a call of nature at half-time, a fellow reporter asked me to return with a milkless cup of tea. He didn’t drink any of it: he just wanted to warm up his hands, expressing considerable gratitude for my rather mundane gesture.
The St. Pat’s media man alongside us also contributed by offering us chocolate sweets which we gladly accepted. The wrappers had the crest of Hannover 96 on them, which seemed incredibly random until we deduced that Pat’s had played the German club in the Europa League the previous autumn.
- That night against Shamrock Rovers
Perhaps my favourite night covering Limerick FC was 1 August 2014, when Shamrock Rovers came to town. A rather unique evening started with two visiting Hoops fans coming into the media room to ask for the loan of a phone charger, a request to which nobody was receptive. Shortly before kick-off, monsoon conditions erupted around Thomond Park and, with the press box very much out in the open, rain was getting in at our laptops. My solution was to cover my screen and keyboard with cling film. It worked a charm.
Meanwhile, I've put cling film on my laptop to protect the screen from the lashing rain pic.twitter.com/s9nDb6a4za
— Liam Togher (@liamtogher88) August 1, 2014
Limerick trounced the Tallaght side 4-1, prolonging a miserable run of form for Trevor Croly’s Rovers which led to them booing their team throughout the night and chanting “We want Croly out” at the final whistle. They got their wish the next morning, but not before Limerick and ex-Hoops goalkeeper Barry Ryan riled them further by making a fist-pump gesture in their direction and pointing to the scoreboard.
To top it off, one Hoops fan was apprehended by Gardai for scaling the barriers and trying to get at Ryan… from the upper tier of Thomond Park’s West Stand. File under the ‘did not think that one through’ category.
- Six Nations Saturday
Limerick’s 2-2 draw at home to Longford Town (back at Jackman Park) on 21 March 2015 wasn’t a particularly memorable occasion, with visiting manager Tony Cousins letting rip about the condition of the pitch after the game.
During that so-so First Division encounter, some journalists (me included) had their attention diverted by the coruscating finish to the England v France Six Nations match in which the English so nearly got the try that would have won them the tournament. Instead, they had to settle for a 20-point win and we celebrated Ireland’s successful retention of the trophy. The PA announcer duly informed the very sparse attendance of what happened in the rugby.
- Galway’s numbers aren’t up
Someone at either Galway United or Macron (possibly both) has a lot to answer for over one of the Tribesmen’s away kits in 2015, namely that khaki green shirt. I’d get over that if it wasn’t for the black numbers on the back of it. Just stop for a minute to contemplate that someone, somewhere thought that was a good idea.
It certainly didn’t do us any favours when they curiously wore that kit away to blue-clad Limerick when they had a perfectly valid and distinguishable white alternative strip to call upon. For a couple of us, our bacon was saved by sitting next to Cian O’Connell, a Galway-based reporter whom we happened to know from his previous time covering Limerick and who was able to correctly identify the visiting players. He would need to do so a lot that evening as Galway won 4-2.
- Shane Tracy’s pin badges
Limerick Live95FM broadcaster JP Dillon is the voice of Markets Field, a role he takes on enthusiastically judging by the volume of his announcements – much too enthusiastically for some dissenting spectators who once chanted at him to “shut your mouth”.
The affable JP left us all baffled on the evening of Shane Tracy’s testimonial in 2017 when he announced that the legendary left-back “will be signing pin badges after the match”. No, that’s not a typo. A few seconds later, JP realised his faux pas and duly corrected himself to say that Tracy would be “selling” pin badges for interested spectators.
Some of us in the press box momentarily had mental images of the ex-Arsenal man grabbing the world’s smallest pen to apply his autograph to minuscule metallic souvenirs.
- Cup final days at the Aviva
Football fans are slowly growing accustomed to watching games behind closed doors this summer, although those of us who have covered FAI Junior Cup finals over the last decade will have encountered a not overly dissimilar experience.
For six successive years between 2013 and 2018, the competition’s showpiece was held at the Aviva Stadium, with your correspondent in attendance at three of those as Ballynanty Rovers and then Pike Rovers (twice) got the chance to grace the turf of the national stadium.
— Liam Togher (@liamtogher88) May 12, 2018
The south Dublin venue has a capacity of 51,700 but the FAI Junior Cup deciders only drew roughly 1,000 apiece. The sound of managers’ instructions, players’ shouts, and the firm application of boot to ball echoed unmistakably around the near-empty stadium. Also, with all the fans seated directly underneath the press box, it looked for all the world from our vantage point as if there was nobody in attendance – although the cheers and klaxons of the travelling few reassured us otherwise.
- The chip van in Cobh
When St Patrick’s Day falls on a weekend, the subsequent Monday is a public holiday in Ireland. So was the case on 18 March 2019 when, free of any other obligations, I headed to the picturesque town of Cobh (a worthy addition to anyone’s travel bucket list) to watch Limerick take on Cobh Ramblers in an EA Sports Cup tie at St Colman’s Park, a venue which wouldn’t be shortlisted for selection in a tome of ‘the world’s most accessible football grounds’.
A very youthful Limerick side lost 3-1 in a rather forgettable game – apart from one incident in the second half when one of the visiting players took a shot that sailed well wide of the goal. However, it could still be regarded as a sweet finish as the ball whistled serenely through the open hatch of a disused chip van behind the goal. That alone was worth the €10 admission fee, if memory serves me correctly on that amount.
A Limerick attack ended with the ball going into the chip van behind the goal, with said ball being retrieved at leisure by a member of security staff. Gotta love Irish club football!!
— Liam Togher (@liamtogher88) March 18, 2019