Cork City dream team: Three keepers in contention for number one jersey

Cork City dream team: Three keepers in contention for number one jersey
Cork City keeper Michael Devine, at full stretch, tips the ball over the bar to pull off a vital save from a Bohemians free kick. Picture: Damien Quirke

IN one sense, the task of picking a best Cork City team over the past 50 years is made easier by the fact that the club wasn’t established until 1984.

A composite half-decade Cork league side might have been an option, but it would have been too unwieldy, especially with Celtic and Hibernians both strong in the 1970s and then also periods where the county had no representation in the League of Ireland.

However, whereas John Horgan and Mark Woods had All-Star Award tallies as a guide of sorts in whittling down the candidates, teams of the year don’t tend to carry the same cachet in soccer.

In any case, the PFAI’s edition only began in 2009.

Despite winning the 2017 title by 13 points from Dundalk, City only had three Team of the Year representatives compared to four from the Louth side.

No, instead we are relying on our own devices, aided by a couple of trusted consiglieres, aware of the inherent dangers in that.

Picking any ‘best of’ team over more than a couple of decades is always a precarious venture because it’s almost impossible to compare players from different eras, but there will be those who are convinced that their selection is unquestionably the best.

When online polls are carried out on such topics, they tend to be more weighted towards modern times.

We might think we’re purely objective, but there are probably the same biases that we accuse others of.

In addition, we have something else to contend with that the GAA sides didn’t — while the hurlers and footballers only played for Cork, soccer careers are more transient and so it’s important to choose players based on what they did while at City.

Otherwise, we’d have a midfield of Trevor Brooking and Terry McDermott.

That’s for Friday, though — for now we will filter down the shortlist, beginning with the goalkeepers.

Cork City keeper Noel Mooney makes a brave save at the feet of Cobh Ramblers' Michael Brosnan. Picture: Brian Lougheed
Cork City keeper Noel Mooney makes a brave save at the feet of Cobh Ramblers' Michael Brosnan. Picture: Brian Lougheed

While we don’t have All-Star teams to provide a framework, but City’s three title wins — 1993, 2005 and 2012 — do help to showcase the best to have worn the club’s colours.

In terms of the number ones, each side’s first-choice netminder can make a strong case for inclusion here.

Bar a few seasons of flux, like 1995-96 when Jody Byrne and Melvin Capleton shared the duties, or 2009 when Dan Connor challenged, what stands out is the longevity of the three men — Phil Harrington, Michael Devine and Mark McNulty.

Harrington is Welsh but he, like Stuart Ashton, set the trend for outsiders to join City and become more Cork than the natives.

A Wales U23 international, his first and last appearances for the club were separated by 17 years as, due to an injury crisis in the 2005 title season, he made a few appearances while primarily employed as goalkeeping coach.

That ‘Biscuits’ held the same role in the 2017 league-winning season means that he has a hand in the selection regardless of who will be picked.

Phil Harrington saves his side in the closing minutes against Derry City in 2000. Picture: Des Barry
Phil Harrington saves his side in the closing minutes against Derry City in 2000. Picture: Des Barry

In hindsight, it’s probably something of a surprise that it took until Devine was 27 for City to sign him, having had spells with his native Cobh Ramblers and Waterford United prior to that.

Harrington’s longevity in the early 1990s meant that City weren’t in the market for a rival and then, when Noel Mooney displaced the Welshman, he showed the kind of form to suggest that he was a long-term successor.

However, after selling Damien Delaney in October 2000, City made a rare cash purchase as Devine was snapped up for IR£15,000, the club’s second-highest fee paid behind that of James Mulligan.

Challenging:

Immediately, Devine stepped into the number one shirt and it was his for the next eight years, coinciding with City regularly challenging for the league.

In the title season of 2005, he was at the top of his game, so much so that there were calls for him to be included in the Republic of Ireland squad.

He was unquestionably the league’s best goalkeeper at the time, the deadlock behind the already mean defence of Neal Horgan, Alan Bennett, Dan Murray and Danny Murphy. City allowed just 18 goals in 33 games that year.

It says much about McNulty’s patience that he backed up Devine for six years with only the occasional chance to impress.

Often, a goalkeeper, like a manager, can come to be regarded as a number two and never really make the transition to main man, but it is to the Ballincollig man’s credit that he shook off Connor in 2009 and then was willing to line out for City in the first division in 2010 rather than seeking a spot with a Premier Division team.

He certainly earned his reward and it wasn’t a case of Cork loyalty when John Caulfield kept him as his first-choice custodian — he won the Soccer Writers of Ireland Goalkeeper of The Year Award in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

In the five-year run from 2014-18, City conceded tallies of 25, 25, 23, 23 and 27, the latter in a 36-game season compared to 33 for the others.

There were good defences in front of him, of course, but he was the last line and did as much as anyone to ensure a meanness.

This will not be an easy choice. Pick one from this trio.

Shortlist: Phil Harrington, Michael Devine, Mark McNulty

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