Cork City Football by Conor Canavan Oct24


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Cork City Football by Conor Canavan

There was a lot of optimism surrounding Cork City FC at the start of the 2014 SSE Airtricity Premier Division Season . A new manager – club legend John Caulfield – had come in. Caulfield had signed players such as Michael Rafter, Anthony Elding, Liam Kearney, Billy Dennehy, Darren Murphy and Mark O’Sullivan, players that had experience and could make a positive change to the squad. Youth team players such as Brian Lenihan and Gary Buckley were ready to step-up to first-team football. So, as the new season came and the first fixture versus the 2013 champions St Pat’s loomed, a lot of supporters , including myself, felt that this could be a sucessful season for the club.

Well, the team has most definitely exceeded expectations. As I write, Cork City are on the brink of SSE Airtricity League glory. They are currently a point ahead of Dundalk FC who they play in a title-decider at Oriel Park tonight.

City started off with a respectable 1-1 home draw with St. Pat’s. They followed that up with wins against Derry City and Bray Wanderers. A real statement was made in the next match against Shamrock Rovers. City cruised to a comfortacle 3-0 win with the Dennehy Brothers, Darren and Billy, and Mark O’Sullivan scoring the goals. There was a real buzz around Turner’s Cross after the match as well as a general feeling that this could actually be a very good season. City continued to win games comfortably before a 4-0 trouncing by Dundalk and a 3-2 loss away to St. Pat’s. Many thought that this was the end of the “title charge” but others thought differently.

City immediately bounced back with a 2-0 home win against Derry. They continued to grind through games with 1-0 wins becoming all-too-common. City then lost 2-0 away to Bohemians which knocked them back a bit. The following week City and Dundalk faced off in Turner’s Cross in a top-of-the-table clash. Turner’s Cross was packed and there was a real sense of optimism before the game. Dundalk took an early lead thanks to playmaker Richie Towell. Dundalk had many other clear-cut chances in the first half that they should’ve taken. City came out in the second half with more vigour and intent but they weren’t really creating any goal-scoring opportunities. With around two minutes left, Darren Dennehy headed his brother Billy’s free- kick into the net and there was a huge sigh of relief around the stadium. We all thought that it would be a draw straight from the kick-off; Dundalk centre-back Brian Gartland prodded a loose ball past City’s keeper Mark McNulty. The final whistle was blown in the following seconds and the regret and deflation was palpable around the ground. Most supporters, including myself, thought that this was the match to end City’s title charge. To add to everyone’s misery, St. Pat’s were starting to come into form and were closing in on second place but the following week’s home game with St. Pat’s was the season’s turning point.

Cork City beat St. Pat’s the following week courtesy of a last minute Colin Healy bicycle-kick. This meant that City were now well clear of Pat’s in second place and Dundalk, on the same night, had only drawn with Drogheda United. Suddenly, all the negativity had cleared and the title charge was very much re-born.

City continued to grind games out, like earlier in the season, with the usual 1-0 wins. Suddenly Dundalk weren’t playing to their usual high standards and City had reclaimed the winning mentality with which John Caulfield had imbued them. On the All-Ireland hurling final weekend in September, St. Pat’s beat Dundalk 1-0 in Richmond Park and Dan Murray’s late header gave City a win over Shamrock Rovers. Now the gap between first and second place was down to just 2 or 3 points. Dundalk were now starting to drop points regularly. From that weekend until now, City have won crucial games against the like of Sligo Rovers, Limerick and UC Dublin.

Dundalk have drawn their last two games while City have won both of theirs. Now, with the title-deciding match to come, City are a point ahead of Dundalk.

This is City’s strongest X1 which has left them on the brink of glory:
1. Mark McNulty; 4. John Dunleavy (C); 5. Darren Dennehy; 17. Dan Murray; 11. Ross Gaynor; 7. Colin Healy; 6. GearĂ³id Morrissey; 9. John O’Flynn; 26. Gary Buckley; 20. Billy Dennehy; 23. Mark O’Sullivan.

(Note: Brian Lenihan was the regular right back before a move to BPL team Hull City FC in August.)

So, Cork City FC are on the brink of their first League of Ireland title since 2005. They have been able to grind out important wins all season and they have definitely proved all their detractors wrong. Although they aren’t the most technically gifted side, they pass the ball around as often as they can and put opposing teams under pressure. We must also note that they have reached the summit of the table without Danny Morrrissey, last season’s best CCFC striker and players such as Michael Rafter, Anthony Elding, Darren Murphy and Danny Murphy because of injury or personal reasons for leaving the club during the season. John Caulfield has also instilled a hard-working, grafting mentality in the players. Without the ball the whole team works as a unit and everyone plays for the team and not for themselves. If I were to describe this team in three phrases I would say “well-drilled”, “pacey” and “united”.

I have gone to around eight or nine home games this season and I have been amazed at the transformation since last season. Caulfield has brought passion and drive back to the club. City have broken the 5,000 attendance mark around three or four times this season which is huge for an Airtricity League club. Their average attendance of 3,700 is much bigger than any other club. Cork City are now a fully professional club for the first time since 2008/09, when the club nearly folded for financial reasons. All these changes have brought a good feeling back to the club.

To finish up, I’d like to wish Caulfield’s men the best of luck on Friday night. If they do win the league, it will be richly deserved.