WHEN Graham Cummins put pen to paper to sign for Preston North End from Cork City in the winter of 2012, little did anyone know the relationship that would develop between the Rebel Army and the English club.
Skip forward eight years and the two teams could be bound as one through an upcoming vote which could see FORAS, the fans group who own Cork City, bought by Grovemore Limited, the owners of Preston.
A crucial vote, which is scheduled to take place on tonight, could see Trevor Hemmings, the owner of Grovemore Limited, purchase the club for €1. For this to pass, there must be a 50+1 majority from the FORAS shareholders.
If anything, the vote marks an accumulation of an eight-year relationship between the two clubs, which began January 2012 with the transfer of Cummins from City to Preston. The striker, who scored 24 goals in the Rebel Army’s 2011 First Divison success, moved cross channel for an undisclosed fee on a two-and-a-half-year deal and made fifteen appearances for Preston that season, scoring twice.
Alan Browne was the next player from Leeside to make the move to Deepdale. The midfielder from Ringmahon, who had won the u19 League of Ireland and Enda McGuill Cup with City in 2013, signed for Preston in January, 2014 after a brief trial. Browne signed on an 18-month contract and was immediately shoehorned into Simon Grayson’s side.
After reaching the League One play-off semi-finals in his first season, Browne was pivotal in Preston’s 2014-15 season which saw them finish two points from automatic promotion and the Lilywhites winning promotion through the play-offs. Browne made 20 appearences that season, including a substitute appearance in the play-off final at Wembley against Swindon.
The next name to travel to Preston was Adam O’Reilly. Another midfielder from Ringmahon Rangers, the then 15-year-old signed in December 2016 after impressing on trail. Inspired by the teenager and Alan Browne, Preston were prompted to develop a partnership with Ringmahon.
Nick Harrison, Preston’s academy manager, spoke at the launch of the partnership and heaped praise on the Cork club. He spoke of the attitude and ability of Browne and O’Reilly and how that sparked their interest for a partnership.
The next two players to sign for Preston were perhaps the biggest names of all. Sean Maguire, just hours after scoring a hat-trick over Dundalk to put Cork City 18 points clear at the top of the Premier Divison table, was announced along with left-back Kevin O’Connor.
The pair stayed at City for another month under the agreement and helped the club oversee Levida Tallinn in the UEFA Europa League. In their last few days as City players, they trained with Preston during the day at Fota Island and played in league games against St. Patrick’s Athletic and Bray Wanders. They also featured against Larnaca in the Europa League, a game watched by the entire Preston squad and management staff at Turner’s Cross.
The two teams finally met on the pitch in July 2019 when Preston travelled over for a friendly. That evening, goals from goals from Jayden Stockley and Josh Ginnelly gave the SkyBet Championship side a 2-0 win at Turner’s Cross.
Through this period, fans of Preston had become infatuated with the performances of Browne and O’Reilly. Browne became a major part of the Lilywhites team in the 2017-18 season, scoring eight goals, a run that earned him the club's Player of the Year award.
O’Reilly began featuring on the bench for Alex Neil’s side in late 2018 and in January 2019 he signed his first professional contract at the club and this week committed to the club again.
The catalyst for a full take over City came from a €150,000 tax bill City received in 2019. The bill, in addition to other factors, led to the club needing to refinance their debts in order to secure a Premier Division license for 2020. City approached their bank to extend their payment terms but they were unwilling to do so and attempts to secure financing from over 20 local businesses were not successful.
The board of FORAS then approached Peter Ridsdale, the former Leeds United chairman and football advisor to Preston owner Trevor Hemmings, about selling the clauses for Browne and Maguire.
Hemmings, who owns Trabolgan Holiday Village in East Cork along with a number of stud farms across the county, was open to negotiations with City. Hemmings also spent a number of summers as a child in Cork and as a close relationship with the Rebel County.
It is understood that City’s initial request was rejected, but upon hearing of the situation at the club, Preston were open to discussions. Delegates from Preston agreed to pay €199,000 for Browne and Maguire’s sell-on clauses.
City approached the FAI to renew their Premier Division license with the money and were refused due to outstanding bank debts. The board re-approached Preston who upped their offer to €450,000 as well as a €150,000 first refusal to take over Cork City.
Following these discussions, Preston captured the signature of Harry Nevin from City’s academy. The 16-year-old, who played for Douglas Hall before signing for the Rebel Army’s academy, had been attracting wide praise for his performances at the club, for his school St Francis College, Rochestown, and the Republic of Ireland U16s.
A number of players have also went from Preston to Cork. In spring 2018 Michael Howard, who came through the academy at Deepdale, signed for City on loan. This year Conor Simpson made the move cross channel to play for City after leaving the Lilywhites.
In March 2020 club chairman Declan Carey said ‘We’ll see how that goes over the coming months’ about the potential takeover and in October members of FORAS were emailed about the vote.
While a yes vote will see Grovemore Limited take control of Cork City, it will be the relationship with Preston which will attract the most attention.