Treaty United chairman Conn Murray: 'We want to build a sustainable club which has a pathway for young people to excel at whatever level they can in terms of the League of Ireland'

Sat, Nov 14 2020

None Credit: Hugh de Paor (ETPhotos)

This week Limerick’s Treaty United broke the news that they had applied to join the League of Ireland’s First Division for the 2021 season.

The new entity - chaired by former chief executive of the Limerick City and County Council Conn Murray - entered a women’s team into the league for the 2020 season.

They experienced relative success in their debut campaign and hope to build on this solid foundation in the coming years. 

The Midwest region has been without a senior football outfit since 2019 when Limerick FC departed the League of Ireland First Division set-up.

But recently, Treaty have applied to take their place as the Limerick representative in the 2021 League of Ireland season.

And in response to this announcement, Ronan Calvert caught up with club chairman Conn Murray to chat about the proposal.

How did the idea for Treaty United come about and how has it progressed to the stage where it finds itself today? 

“We started at the beginning of the year when I was approached by a number of people who had a genuine interest in securing League of Ireland soccer back into Limerick. At that point it had reached a formal conclusion and had reached difficulties in this part of the country, which is well known. 

“I sat down with a number of people and said yeah I would certainly help them structure an approach that would help bring League of Ireland soccer back to Limerick.

“We originally started off with the name Limerick United, but unfortunately it turned out that that name wasn't available to us when we thought it was, so we re-established ourselves as Treaty United. 

“We have formed a company, which is a not for profit company, which means members are there, not for financial benefit, but effectively they are there because they are committed and they love the game of soccer and want to do what's right for the Mid-West and that's the kind of attitude that I was trying to bring to the table. 

“We have prepared ourselves by initially being part of the Women's National League and the women have done us proud this year in terms of how they performed and the U17s have done an exceptional piece of work too. We were unfortunate to be knocked out of the FAI Cup semi-final. They fought hard, they played well but learned a lot of lessons and as a club we have also learned to manage ourselves because we regard ourselves as a League of Ireland club.

“What we really want to do now is move to the academy and move to senior men. The reason we want to do that is because we believe there is extraordinary talent available in the mid-west and they should be given every opportunity to get onto the type of platforms that put their skills on display and give them the opportunity that's necessary to go to the next level and at the moment that's just not there for them.

“We want to build a sustainable club which has a pathway for young people to excel at whatever level they can in terms of League of Ireland. Obviously we want to put Limerick and the Mid-West region back on the map of premier football and that's going to take time but we should be there - we have a long heritage, a long tradition and an enormous commitment and support for our football in this part of the country so we're really tapping into that in order to move forward.”

You mention sustainability, how can Treaty United ensure that the club will be a stable one and avoid the problems that perhaps Limerick teams have encountered in the past?  

“I think it's probably not just Limerick senior soccer, I mean I don't think there's a club in the country that hasn't encountered some kind of challenges. When I was up in the north east I was there when Drogheda were in trouble and when Dundalk had their challenges, I was also in Waterford when they had their challenges so like I say, I have had a long experience being on the outside working with various groups and clubs trying to move them forward. 

“What is key at the end of the day is you need the appropriate support. It has to grow from the ground up, it can't be something that is there as a business to make money - because you don't [make money as a businessman in the League of Ireland]. Therefore, whatever is there must be invested into the actual football so you are building a group around you who are interested in investing in young people and football itself, not just to make a return on investment. 

“From that perspective I intend to build it out in a sustainable manner by taking our time and not taking steps that we would love to take that we can't afford. This is about managing the club in a very realistic way without taking away from the ambition - it might take a bit longer, but we will get there. 

The club announced in its statement during the week that you have secured the Markets Field as your stadium going forward. How important was this to the club and was the process to get to this stage a complex one? 

“We all wanted to bring soccer home to the Market's Field and with the LEDP and the enterprise development partnership that existed going back to 1998, I know what they're ambitions are and I know they want to be part of the community and work very closely with the community and that has been their interest from the very outset. 

“So, when we proposed this to them, it wasn't just a case of us sitting down and saying we wanted to play football there. We wanted to be part of rebuilding the community and wanted to be part of the growth of that area and so on their part they are looking at our vision as being what it should be. 

“We are not looking for ownership rights or anything of that nature, we are looking to create this as the home of soccer for the future. Niall O'Callaghan, the chief executive of the LEDP, has great vision and has been very supportive in terms of the type of approach we are intending to take. Having people like Dave Mahedy supporting what we're doing, a man who has played football at all levels and has built out UL to the enormous standard that he has achieved; to have that kind of credibility and experience on our side is a big help also.”

Is there a strategy in mind to fully promote this team to the community and capture the Limerick soccer public's imagination following the change of name and colour?

“We obviously have a communications and marketing plan in place. Obviously, it depends on licencing and Covid restrictions in terms of what they would be. We'd like to have built more of a support base over the year but unfortunately Covid has prevented that. 

“As for the colour issue, at the end of the day we are gone back to the original colour. I mean that's what Limerick were when they were founded - red and white, so it's not like we are straying from our history and have to rebuild all over again. Colour will not be an issue, it's really about engaging from the ground up from the outset and you do that by working with people, by extending that opportunity out and people will in time support the senior team I hope. If we are allowed get people in the door, I do think they will come. 

“What I would say about the name is if you look at the crest - ‘Treaty United Limerick' - that's what we are. This part of the country is known as the Treaty City and it does resonate as part and parcel of our history. Remember also, we are not just Limerick, we cater for the Mid-West. We cater for Clare, Tipperary, North Kerry and there are over 21,000 players participating in soccer in that region who haven't had the chance to step up to the next level. So we're not just confining ourselves to Limerick, I know people have a fondness for it, I have myself and I understand why but Treaty is what we are and our crest is very clear 'Treaty United Limerick'.”

What short and long-term objectives do you envisage for Treaty United moving forward? 

“As I say, if we get our license through in the next couple of months then well, we already have people in position in terms of both the first team and the academy so we're well in place to hit the grounding running from January on. We have to garnish the financial supports that are necessary and that is based on getting the license so there is considerable work to be done there.

“In real terms, we survive division one, we get ourselves in there, get ourselves known, start building on our brand, build on the women's team that has been there and then look to drive forward with an academy because I must admit now I am very taken aback by the talent that exists here. 

“Nearly every junior cup in the country rests in this part of the country and that speaks volumes about the quality of people who are participating in soccer in the Mid-West and that has to be given a channel, that has to be given an opportunity. The other thing I must point out as well is that we want to build up a relationship with the [local] leagues and clubs - we are here to complement, not to compete.”

Are you able to go public with the names of those staff members at this stage and either way are we likely to see a squad entirely of local Limerick talent to begin with or is there also budget to attract other out-of-contract League of Ireland players to the club?

“First and foremost, there are names, but I am not prepared to go public with them at this stage, that is only for people that are engaged.

“Would I like to see [our squad] developing purely as Limerick? I would, and I would also like to bring back players that are gone east, west and north to give them an opportunity to play for their home area. 

“It would be nice to build from the ground up and give kids a chance to participate at that level. As a starting position our expectations are very modest, we will not have big budgets, this is about sustainable growth so that is giving people from pretty much amateur level the opportunity to move up to this level and grow then and then bring in strengths as we go forward. But really I genuinely want to see local people getting this opportunity for Treaty United.”

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