Three years after bringing over two CSKA Moscow players to boost a promotion bid, Limerick chairman Pat O’Sullivan is now looking to austerity-hit Greece to stave off relegation, writes Peter Doyle.
‘In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity,’ said the former freeman of Limerick, John F Kennedy.
The chairman of Limerick FC – the only top-flight representatives from JFK’s ancestral home – must have heeded this advice when he dreamt up a plan to capitalise on the financial meltdown in Greece.
But Pat O’Sullivan wasn’t poring over the Financial Times when scheming to save Limerick’s season by extending a lifeline to struggling footballers in the debt-ridden Med.
He was in front of the TV. As he explained to Irish broadcaster RTE: ‘I’m sitting at home, I’m watching Shirley Valentine with my wife Helen and I’m saying the Greeks are technically very good at football but austerity must have impacted on their game. Maybe that’s something we should look at’.
It may smack of desperation but Limerick’s situation – no win in the first 21 games – requires desperate measures.
‘I need to bring in quality players now to help us get out of where we are at,’ said O’Sullivan. ‘I don’t see them in Ireland, so I’m looking around. The Irish go to England and everywhere else so why can’t the Greeks come here? They’re EU – so why not look at them just the same?’
‘So, I got my daughter Pam to Google the players’ union in Greece. We emailed them what we were looking for. They’ve sent us details of certain players.’
As yet, there have been no reports of destitute footballers swapping Salonika for the south-west of Ireland and part-time football at Markets Field, Limerick’s spiritual home where they recently made a prodigal return after 31 years.
Such was the fanfare that surrounded Limerick’s first game at the old ground – an event made possible after racing tycoon JP McManus bought the site for his local club – that Ireland’s president, Michael D Higgins, was guest of honour for the 2-1 defeat against Drogheda.
Home league defeats against Bray and Galway duly followed before O’Sullivan decided to flirt publicly with the possibility of attracting players over from Greece after watching Shirley Valentine flirting with her Greek waiter.
Days later, the squad managed by Martin Russell (no relation to Valentine screenwriter Willy) responded with their first league win of the campaign – a nerve-wracking 3-2 victory over fellow strugglers Sligo before a home crowd of just under 1,000.
The ides were again with Limerick last Saturday when the basement side, down to ten men, took three points off Dublin giants Bohemians in a 4-3 thriller at Markets Field.
Despite back-to-back wins, Limerick remain at the foot of the table on 12 points, four behind Sligo.
In 2012, in a bid to end a 19-year absence from the Premier Division, O’Sullivan all but signed Lubos Kaluda and Dawid Janczyk from CSKA Moscow. Despite a colourful welcome at Shannon, the pair never actually played for Limerick – who went on to achieve promotion after all.
With a visit to title-chasing Cork City for a tense Munster derby this Friday, perhaps it’s too early to speak of another Greek bail-out?