AS HE prepares to lead Limerick FC in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division for a second season, manager Stuart Taylor is aiming to improve on the club’s seventh-place finish from last year, but he believes this campaign will be tougher for the Super Blues.
They followed up promotion in 2012 with a relatively trouble-free return to the top flight and now the manager realises that his team has lost its status as an unknown quantity.
Taylor said: “Last year was about staying in the league and retaining our league status. I’ve always said that we’re looking for progression, not perfection, so if we can do better than what we did last year, I think that would be a fantastic achievement.
“The second season is always harder because [other teams] know about you a lot more. You’ve got to tweak your workload and your style a bit more to improve it.
“It’s going to be a harder season this year than what it was last year. I think that showed as the season went on last year that teams gave us more respect. They sat in, they were harder to break down and they adopted a different style against us, but we’ll learn from that. We’ve got quality about the park to cut teams down but we have to be patient in our play.
“Each game is different but the second season is going to be harder. In term of where we want to finish I’ll hold that back but if we can progress in everything – lose fewer goals, score more goals, win more games – that’s essentially what we’re looking to do.”
Taylor’s Limerick won admirers in 2013 for their attack-minded approach to the game. The manager is keen to remain true to his principles, but admitted that he will need to be tactically flexible now that teams have an idea what to expect from Limerick.
“I’ll have to try and change things and tweak a little bit, but hopefully we’ll change by still playing football in a progressive way. We’re doing things a little bit quicker, a little bit sharper and with a little bit more quality.
“Managers are switched on every day and they do look at the opposition a lot more, so they’ll know that we want to play football and will set out their stall in a way to stop us from doing that. We’ve got to be brave and to take responsibility on the ball and we’ll do that.”
The Super Blues finalised preparations for the Premier Division with a five-day training camp in Spain, where they were narrowly beaten in friendly matches against Athletic Bilbao B and Amorebieta.
Taylor was very satisfied with the trip, saying that his team witnessed a tempo of football to which they could aspire. He also acknowledged the role of his experienced players in helping to develop the younger members of the squad.
“It was great. It was a massive learning curve for me, first and foremost, and for the players as well to see movement off the ball and see the tempo at which they moved the ball. It was a great experience for them because they saw it firsthand and I learned a lot as well. It was a fantastic trip from start to finish and it was really beneficial for us.
“We’ve got a good mix of experienced players who look after the kids. That was evident when we went to Spain. They really do take them under their wing, and the kids are good as well because they’re receptive to it and they give respect to the experienced ones.
“It’s a good blend that we’ve got. We are very young which stands us in good stead for the future of the club. They’re learning from the experienced boys now and taking everything on board. You can only bring through young players if you’ve got good experienced players and we’ve got good experienced players so we can afford to do it.”
In 2013 the depth of Taylor’s squad was severely tested at times due to injuries and suspensions, and Limerick will begin this season with several players on the treatment table.
However, the manager is not unduly worried about the range of players he has to choose from and he also stressed that he and his players are seeking to reduce the red card count from last season.
“People say that we only brought in two bodies but I thought we had a very good squad anyway. I brought in two very good players that certainly strengthened the squad and I’ve got a huge amount of confidence in the players that are there.
“We’ve had an incredible amount of injuries in pre-season but it’s part and parcel of football that players do get injured and pick up illnesses, but we’ll be patient. We’ll wait for them to come back and we’ll build them back up again.
“We’re looking to improve [the disciplinary record] so that’s part of our job, to improve that side of things, and I come into that category as well. I’ve got to make sure that first and foremost I improve on that side. The players learn their lessons. They’re great that way and if there’s any mistakes being made they’ll rectify that as quickly as they can. They’re different class; they’ll be fine that season.”
Limerick’s first league game of 2014 takes place this Friday at home to Bray Wanderers and they have a tricky run of fixtures in the opening weeks of the season.
Next Monday they go to Cork City in the EA Sports Cup and their subsequent league games see them travel to last year’s runners-up Dundalk and current champions St Patrick’s Athletic.
Taylor is under no illusions as to how challenging those fixtures are likely to be, although he insists that ‘parking the bus’ is not an option.
“There’s always pressure on a manager in terms of results. The first three games are difficult games but we want to win every game. We want to have Thomond Park as being a fortress. The supporters do their bit; we need to do our bit and we will. Together we’ll make it a hard place for teams to come.
“We don’t fear anybody. Last year we went to Dundalk and we did very well. St Pat’s as well is 11 v 11 and we’ll set out our stall to try and win the game. We’ll not go anywhere to try and settle for a draw or keep the scoreline down. We try to win games, simple as that, but it is a difficult start.”