Limerick manager Martin Russell knows UCD are equipped for another promotion push and that his side must “perform better than that standard if we want to go up as Champions”, with the league kicking off this weekend.
The Students – who Russell led to the First Division title when cutting his management teeth in 2009 – missed out on a return to the top flight last season through the playoffs.
Their conquerors Finn Harps went on to seal a place in the Premier Division by overcoming Limerick in the playoff final. But the Shannonsiders have retained most of their squad while adding the likes of John O’Flynn and Aaron Greene, and they enter this campaign as favourites for the title.
Russell has admitted that preparations could have gone better for the opening match – where UCD visit the Markets Field on Saturday evening (kick-off 6.30pm) – with some of his players hit by injury and now illness this week.
However, they have been boosted by the availability of Greene, who hit nine league goals with Saint Patrick’s Athletic last season, as his yellow-card count has been wiped out, a change in the rules which Russell has welcomed. And, as is the case around the country, he is glad that the wait is now over.
“We are all looking forward to getting underway – there is a lot of anticipation there,” Martin told LimerickFC.ie. “We want to start as well as we can.
“We have had a few injuries and illnesses and stuff like that but, all in all, the group have been bonding quite well. Ideally, you don’t want those things but that’s the case and we have to work towards getting the injured lads back as soon as we can.
“Last year, UCD had the European experience which kept them in good stead and they were challenging throughout the year. They know what the First Division is about but we have to make sure we perform better than that standard if we want to go up as Champions.”
The new faces for Limerick this season are (previous club in brackets): Séamus Sharkey (Derry City), John O’Flynn (Cork City), Aaron Greene (Saint Patrick’s Athletic), Stephen Kenny (Cobh Ramblers), Chris Mulhall (UCD) and Jordan Moore (Dundee United), along with the returning Garbhán Coughlan (Regional United).
Val Feeney remains a Limerick player but has gone on-loan to Athlone Town. A number of Under-19s have also been included in the senior squad.
The Blues played seven games during pre-season, including two in the Munster Senior Cup, with two wins, a draw and four defeats their record. They netted ten goals; their scorers: Coughlan (2), Mulhall, Kenny, Sharkey, Guillermo Torres – a trialist who has since departed – Paul O’Conor, Ross Mann, Robbie Williams and captain Shane Duggan.
Last weekend, they recorded a confidence-boosting 3-1 home win over Premier Division side Galway United, where they battled back from Vinny Faherty’s early opener with goals from Sharkey, Williams and Duggan.
UCD enjoyed Harding Cup and Collingwood Cup success during pre-season. In their warm-up games, they went down 2-0 to Shamrock Rovers, Galway and Dundalk, but overcame Finn Harps 4-2 in their final outing a fortnight ago.
Limerick last faced UCD in a competitive fixture in September 2014 when Ian Turner and Rory Gaffney (2) were on the mark in a 3-1 win in Dublin.
Team News: Limerick have doubts over defender Shaun Kelly and striker John O’Flynn (both knee) who have missed much of pre-season.
Officials: Referee for the game is Andrew Mullally, his assistants are Adam Tszample and Patrick O’Connor with the fourth official Pat Gleeson.
1. Freddy Hall (GK)
2. Shaun Kelly
3. Robbie Williams
5. Séamus Sharkey
6. Paul O’Conor
7. Lee-J Lynch
8. Shane Duggan (C)
9. John O’Flynn
10. Aaron Greene
11. Shane Tracy
12. Garbhán Coughlan
15. Tony Whitehead
16. Stephen Kenny
17. Shane Costelloe
18. Val Feeney (on-loan to Athlone Town)
19. Ross Mann
20. Chris Mulhall
22. Jordan Moore
23. Colm Murphy
24. Paudie O’Connor
25. Seán McSweeney
26. Clyde O’Connell
27. Killian Brouder
28. Keith Mawdsley
29. Yousef Mahdy
30. Tommy Holland (GK)
31. Shane Lowth
32. Liam McCartan
33. Alan Murphy