Quick turnaround for Newcastle West as they begin provincial campaign

Having claimed a third successive Limerick title, Jimmy Lee’s charges renew rivalry with Tipperary champions Clonmel Commercials

The Newcastle West footballers will be back on the pitch on Wednesday night, celebrations parked and sat nav updated for a hurried expedition across Munster.

It might lyrically be a long way to Tipperary, and ideally for the Magpies it is a distance they would have preferred not to cover for another week or so.

But here Newcastle West are, faced with a seven-day turnaround – from last weekend’s Limerick SFC final against Adare at the Gaelic Grounds to a Munster club quarter-final against Clonmel Commercials in Thurles.

“I suppose Monday night probably finished off most of the celebrations,” says Newcastle West boss Jimmy Lee, who in September was also appointed Limerick senior football manager.

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“We’ll get out two days this week, we won’t do too much, just try focus on Clonmel Commercials. You couldn’t think about Munster before the county final, so the quick turnaround makes it difficult. For the last two years we had a gap of two or three weeks.”

Newcastle West made history last Sunday because their 3-5 to 0-13 victory over Adare was the club’s inaugural three-in-a-row and the first time the feat was achieved by any team in the county since Treaty Sarsfields managed it between 1973-75.

Lee has been at the wheel for all three triumphs and the accomplishment is all the more impressive given that 10 of the 2021 panel were not involved in last Sunday’s squad.

Newcastle West, who have won a total of seven Limerick titles, have never captured a Munster crown but they did contest two provincial deciders – losing to Nemo Rangers in 1987 and falling to Kerins O’Rahillys last season. The Kerry side only edged December’s final by a single point, 2-6 to 1-8.

But while a provincial breakthrough would be huge, Lee was conscious of the significance of his team’s three-in-a-row triumph.

“It hadn’t been done in Limerick since the mid-70s, so it’s a massive achievement for the players and they should be allowed to enjoy it.

“Having gone so close last year in Munster and then to dust themselves off and pick themselves up to go at it again, it’s a fair testament to their character.”

It’s also a fair testament to Lee’s organisational skills that he has guided his home club to this success while juggling the role of county senior football manager.

He is following in the footsteps of his brother, Billy, by taking the reins of the Limerick footballers. Billy Lee was in charge of the Treaty County from 2017-22, leading them to Division Two football in his last season at the helm. Jimmy has been appointed for an initial two-year term.

“The players have been doing individual gym programmes as they finished up in the championship with their clubs,” adds Lee on Limerick’s 2024 preparations.

“There is a fair amount of work going on in the background, but in fairness to the coaches and management team they have been putting in the hours to pull it all together.”

Not that there was too much interaction on the management team’s WhatsApp group last week though as some were in opposing trenches at the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday.

Stephen Kelly is part of Lee’s Newcastle West set-up while John Brudair and Pat Donnelly were on the Adare sideline last weekend.

Lee would be quite happy to still find himself double-jobbing in early 2024, for that would mean Newcastle West had become the first Limerick club since Dromcollogher-Broadford, in 2008, to win a Munster club SFC.

But there is a lot of road to be travelled between now and that particular destination and the first major checkpoint will be provided by a Clonmel side hell-bent on revenge this Sunday. The clubs met in a Munster club semi-final last November with Newcastle West edging the contest after extra-time, 1-16 to 1-11.

Clonmel Commercials this year claimed a fourth Tipp senior football title in five years with a resounding 6-7 to 2-6 victory over JK Brackens on October 22nd – so the Premier County champions have had more time than the Magpies to prepare for this season’s provincial championship.

“Thankfully we came out on top last year because it was a very tough battle,” recalls Lee. “Clonmel are the top club in Tipperary and from the outside looking in they seem to be yards ahead of any other team in the county.

“Last Sunday was a physical game, we picked up a few knocks so we are getting those assessed but hopefully everybody will be able to tog out and take part against Clonmel.”

Sore heads and sore bodies around Newcastle West this week.

But as one journey ends, another begins.