AS we have reached the climax of the first round of games in the Airtricity League First Division, we have decided to take a look back at the results and the performances of Treaty United senior men’s team thus far.
There were changes aplenty at the club at the beginning of 2021 with the news that Treaty United had been accepted into the Airtricity League First Division following a drawn out process which was not short of drama.
In the worst kept secret in the mid-west region, Tommy Barrett was officially unveiled as the club’s manager in February and brought trusted lieutenant’s Mike McCarthy and Dave Rooney to the club with him.
In a more surprising move to many, former Pike Rovers manager Mick Shiel was appointed as the men’s strength and conditioning coach. The backroom team began the difficult task of assembling a squad for the new season with just under two weeks before the amateur transfer deadline.
Although many reveled at how quick business was completed, in truth Barrett had been contacting players well in advance to enquire about their interest and availability. He did suffer setbacks in a stressful week with two prominent junior footballers turning up to the trial evening at Limerick Institute of Technology and subsequently turning down a move to the newly formed side.
Upon assembling his 25-man squad for the campaign, preparations began for the opening game of the season against one of the promotion favourites Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds. Although former Limerick FC players Sean McSweeney, Clyde O’Connell, Kieran Hanlon and Alan Murphy were signed along with the experience of Tadgh Ryan, Marc Ludden and Jack Lynch, nobody knew what to expect from the opening game.
What resulted was a tenacious, organised and defensive display which would become synonymous with the side for the remainder of the opening round of fixtures. Barrett’s men frustrated Bray and although no attacking intent was shown, a confidence building draw was a brilliant outcome despite the sending off of Sean McSweeney which would begin a tail of woe on that front.
Back to back home games with Wexford FC and Cobh Ramblers were important as Treaty would need to be hard to beat at the Garryowen venue to be competitive in the second tier. Treaty were probably fortunate to emerge with a 1-0 victory over the South-East outfit with Anthony O’Donnell having the distinction of scoring the club’s first senior men’s competitive goal from a set-piece, another strong point in the opening round. Unfortunately, Clyde O’Connell’s second half dismissal meant that a 100% record of sending-offs continued.
Following the 1-1 draw with Cobh Ramblers, we saw the first sign of anger and frustration from Barrett as it is certainly a game that the home side should have won but the straight red-card to right-back Charlie Fleming was the main talking point with Barrett criticising his players for their naivety and lack of discipline in the opening three games. However, an unbeaten start heading into a crunch clash with John Caulfield’s Galway was more than anybody had expected before a ball was kicked.
The performance in the first-half at Eamon Deacy Park was superb. Playing against a full-time outfit and one of the favourites to win the league, Treaty played their hosts off the park and took a 0-1 lead into half-time thanks to a superbly worked goal involving Marc Ludden and Joel Coustrain which was finished off brilliantly by Moyross native Edward McCarthy. Although the team suffered the heartbreak of conceding a last-minute goal when fatigue played a big part against their full-time opponents, it was a night when the rest of the division had no choice but to take notice.
The step-up from junior to senior football is an extremely tough one. All you have to do is ask our regular Sporting Limerick analysts Jason and Noel O’Connor who have vast experience as well as the players themselves to realise the mammoth task. Impressively, the likes of Sean Guerins, Matt Keane and Mark Walsh were making the step-up look easy in the opening weeks although far from easy it was.
From facing one full-time outfit to another as Treaty contested their second Munster derby when hosting Cork City at the Markets Field. O’Donnell grabbed his second goal of the season to put the Limerick based outfit ahead before former Limerick FC midfielder Cian Coleman equalised. Matt Keane grabbed the winner in the second half in what was a fully deserved victory and made it five games unbeaten.
Despite the unbeaten start, even the most ardent of Treaty United supporters would have been worried by the challenge that lay ahead when the side visited Tolka Park to face recently relegated Shelbourne. With the firepower and experience at their disposal, Shelbourne were fully expecting a win.
However, what transpired was Treaty’s best performance of the season as their footballing ability was on show. Neat triangles and an abundance of one-two’s was evidence of rising confidence among the ranks with Sean McSweeney, Clyde O’Connell and Ed McCarthy at the forefront of the display. If you had no knowledge of the league or either team, you would have said Treaty were the recently relegated side in the opening 45 minutes.
Kieran Hanlon got off the mark for the season to give the away side the lead before the most dramatic of finishes to the game. Shelbourne were increasing the pressure and their double substitution of Ryan Brennan and Yousef Mahdy reaped rewards as they scored two goals in injury time to take the lead before Anthony O’Donnell picked up Treaty’s fourth red card in 6 games. The character of Barrett’s men was evident as they won a corner at the other end before O’Connell’s neat finish at the back -post rescued a point with the last kick of the game.
A draw at the home of the team who are now five points clear at the top of the table was an admirable result for the league’s newcomers who remained unbeaten after 6 games and in the play-off places. A second trip to the capital in as many weeks proved a step too far with centre-back pairing Guerins and O’Donnell missing while Mark Walsh was ruled out with a broken jaw due to a cowardly elbow from Michael O’Connor the week previously.
Down three of their best performers and against one of the best footballing and most energetic sides in the league in UCD on their own patch, Treaty came up just short in a 3-2 loss even though they held a 0-2 first half lead. Bouncing back from their first loss of the season was always going to be a big test but they passed with flying colours against Athlone Town at the Markets Field with a Jack Lynch goal handing the Candystripes a big victory.
In the final game of the first round of fixtures, Cabinteely were 1-0 victors at Stradbrook to ensure that Treaty’s poor run in Dublin continued. Once again, the Limerick side bounced back at the firs time of asking with a big victory over Bray Wanderers last week.
The victory means that Treaty are currently 4th in the league standings following ten games and that is certainly more than we bargained for in early March. As previously mentioned, experienced players like Jack Lynch, Tadgh Ryan and Marc Ludden have been leading by example for the majority of games but it is the performance of the likes of Sean Guerins, Anthony O’Donnell and Ed McCarthy which has been most pleasing. Those players have acted as the catalyst for the positive start.
Furthermore, Treaty currently hold the best home record in the division with four victories and a draw and also boast a superb home defensive record with just two goals conceded. As we mentioned at the start of the season, positive results would be needed at the Garryowen venue because teams would be happy to visit Limerick due to the quality of the pitch and the facilities. However, Treaty have not allowed opponents to settle and have also shown their ability on the ball during periods.
Obviously, Tommy Barrett has been trying to play down the achievement after ten games and his cautious approach is warranted when you see how tight the division is. For example, following defeat to Cabinteely, his side dropped from 4th to 7th position. But, when you consider that Dean George and Joel Coustrain have barely featured through injury, you start to wonder can they make a sustained push for a play-off position. Nobody would be expecting it, but it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility.
The next four to five games will be vital as Treaty make two away trips to bottom of the table Wexford and struggling Cobh. The management team will be quick to dispel any complacency due to league standings as that is when you are most vulnerable. The buzz words when discussing this team so far are character, determination, solidity and organisation and they need to show all of this week in and week out to secure results.