Opinion: Sustainability has long eluded football in Limerick but it's the key to long-term success in the Treaty City

by Jason O'Connor

Jason O'Connor is a former schoolboy international footballer, who played professionally with Peterborough United in the UK and in the League of Ireland with Limerick. He has been coached by Billy Hamilton (Northern Ireland World Cup player 1982) and Sam Allardyce at Limerick, the late Chris Turner and former Ireland international Mark Lawrenson.

As the wait to see if there will be Limerick representation in this year’s SSE Airtricity League of Ireland senior men’s division, sustainability is a word we are beginning to hear more often.

By definition, sustainability means “meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

So when the word sustainability is used in relation to senior soccer in Limerick, those with a keen interest in the game may be tempted to look at how it can be achieved.

History has proven to generations of locals that sustainability is the one thing that has eluded those who have attempted to provide a lasting football environment in the Treaty City.

Finance obviously plays a part, but is waiting for a constant influx of millions being gambled on a minimal return, a realistic approach to base the hopes of current and future generations of players and supporters on?

Unless, of course, the latest Lotto winner, confirmed as being from the region is a fan and feels like making those hopes a reality, a shrewder more holistic approach may be required.

When one looks at costing a senior soccer set up, which is far more than just putting a first team on the pitch, the wondering about the how of it all begins.

Without its own training and playing facilities, any club in the city has rental costs, travel to and from games, a playing and management budget, kit and an underage academy.

So one begins to understand how past chairman dating back to the Famous Fried Chicken era and beyond have not been able to provide the long-term model required.

The joined-up approach of every strand of the game in this region from grassroots to senior level depends on more than ten leagues, over a hundred clubs with as many volunteers on committees having the same mindset and goal that the senior club should be a priority, it becomes a real challenge.

While it is totally acceptable and understandable that not all the clubs and people in the region will have an interest in promoting senior soccer, I’m sure the percentage of clubs and volunteers that do is high enough to support this tier of the game through mutually beneficial partnerships.

After all, why the need for senior soccer some may ask? It is needed to provide a pathway for young players who dream about being a future star, and that is a dream that will never die once the game exists.

Clubs sharing facilities in return for coaching sessions for their players by the best academy coaches in the region is one angle worth exploring.

The description of ‘best’ is always open to debate, so coaches who are proven youth developers is the real requirement for any national league club.

Youth Developers should do as the description suggests and develop young players, aged 18 and under with the tools to, in the future, play first team senior football.

A wide geographical spread of these partnerships could also help provide the national league representative with a fan base that over time can grow.

Regular club visits from favourite players with Q & A sessions and photo opportunities from a team full of local players and that dream that never dies could start to look more achievable for those that dare to dream.

Providing tickets for underage players that must be accompanied by a paying adult again is a mutual beneficial incentive that could be explored.

Through the partnership, this could possibly save on the rent of training facilities for a national league academy and at the same time increase attendances and gate receipts.

Marketing, sponsorship of players, staff and kit are among the obvious other avenues that need an aggressive approach.

By seeking engagement from the local business community to be active members of the board and the club, then the aforementioned challenge can start to look a bit more achievable.

A visible pathway for local talent is obviously a prerequisite for these types of partnerships but this is something that can again benefit all parties involved.

Resisting the temptation to recruit players and managers from outside the mid-west and even from outside the country is at times something that has been too much for those in positions of power.

This approach has not only hit the senior club in the pocket but also on the terraces by killing local interest and also the possibility of any long-term partnerships.

Every local club, fan, player and entity want players at this level. Results, everyone accepts, will come over time with the correct staff in place once it’s not a repeat of past years where finishing bottom or second bottom of the first division table became the norm.

A reasonably competitive team with results and performances improving over time and an identity that clubs, young players and supporters from this region feel part of is the main requirement.

Resisting that temptation to go nuclear, gambling on short term success which nearly always leads to more long-term pain than gain can be avoided with the appointment of a football person positioned between the business end of the club and the management teams.

Creating this link through a person, who possesses the knowledge, experience of the league, the required qualifications, and who can be trusted with the responsibility of driving recruitment both on and off the pitch, could be another key to realising that magic word: sustainabilty.