Soccer – “Players eager to be a part of it next year” – LFC’s Paul O’Connor

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Screen shot 2015-11-06 at 08.50.52LIMERICK FC midfielder Paul O’Conor says players will be “really eager to finish the job” so that they can experience more “special” nights at the Markets Field in the top flight next season, after playing in front of a “ridiculous crowd” last Monday.

The Shannonsiders take a narrow 1-0 lead to Finn Park for the second leg of the SSE Airtricity League Promotion / Relegation Playoff Final on Friday night, after Shaun Kelly’s 34th-minute thunderbolt gave them a deserved advantage in the first clash.

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They struck the woodwork twice in a dominant performance and while O’Conor would have liked a slightly bigger gap between the teams for the return match, he was delighted to win and keep a clean-sheet – the club’s first at home in over a year.

The Markets Field – which reopened in June after 31 years – was jammed, with large queues forming for tickets on Monday afternoon, and an unforgettable atmosphere created in the Garryowen venue as Limerick continued their Great Escape.

The 27-year-old says it “felt like Limerick football was really alive and well”, and he wants Martin Russell’s side to ensure they complete the most remarkable of turnarounds and secure their Premier Division status in Donegal.

“It was a ridiculous crowd,” Paul told Limerick FC TV. “Even when we were doing the warm-up you could hear the chants and the stand was full. The surrounding areas, which haven’t been open in the last couple of months, were full. Then when ‘Kells’ scored the goal.

“Even the crowd behind the dugout, we hadn’t seen that before; it was full and an amazing thing to play in. I can’t imagine too many of the players would have played in something as special as that.

“It really felt like Limerick football was really alive and well so we want to make sure we finish the job this week and hopefully there’ll be a few more next season.

“There was always that motivation, once we managed to make the playoff after doing what we’ve done, not to throw it all away through complacency or through letting ourselves down at the last hurdle through being silly.

“The most important thing is we came into the game, we’re focussed and professional and we treat them with the same respect that we treat anybody else in the Premier Division.

“Now that we’ve had a taste of what this club can do and what can happen in the Markets Field like it was the other night, I think a lot of players are really eager to make sure we finish the job on Friday so that they can be a part of it again next year.”

Reflecting on Monday’s first leg, Paul added: “I think the most important thing was that we won. That was a huge part of it. We kept a clean-sheet. Those are probably the two most important things to do, but there are obviously other aspects.

“We would have liked to have scored a couple of more goals. They set up very well and it was tough in the second half to break them down. But overall, I’m happy. We’ve got a lead, we’re 1-0 up, we go up there and we expect to score.

“We’re in a good position. We would rather a couple of more goals but that’s just the way it has gone now so we’ll go there full of confidence and looking forward to the game.

“It was a tough game on Monday. It was a physical game. But I think we started the game very well; the first half was very good. We had them on the back-foot for the majority of the game. They had a lot of defending to do and it tired them out a lot.

“I think the game went well for us. It was just in the final third where we kind of let ourselves down a bit, especially in the second half.

“I’ve played in Finn Park once before a couple of years ago; it was a tough place to go then, it’s a tough place to go now. It’s going to be a tough atmosphere I think.

“But they’re going to have come out now because they know they’re 1-0 down. They won’t be able to defend as much as they did in the first game. That will draw them out a bit more which will hopefully favour us.

“But we’re going to have to be on our game. Everybody is going to have to be really at it, with no sloppy mistakes. It’s going to be a bit of a battle. You’re going to have to earn the right to play.

“In the first while we’ll do that; we’ll earn our right, we’ll get involved in the game and make sure we’re not intimidated out of it, and then we’ll go in and try to play our football.”

Team News: Limerick have doubts over forward trio Ian Turner, Dean Clarke and Vinny Faherty who picked up knocks in Monday’s first leg.