The Cork City dream team: Vintage midfielders could thrive in any era

The Cork City dream team: Vintage midfielders could thrive in any era
Cork City's Patsy Freyne celebrates the FAI Cup replay win over Shelbourne at Dalymount Park in 1998. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WHILE those compiling the best Cork hurling and football teams didn’t have to worry about transfers – out anyway, as the Rebel footballers benefited from the additions of Shea Fahy and Larry Tompkins – there was also more simplicity in terms of layout.

Even in the modern GAA era where third midfielders and sweepers are more common than the conventional formation, teams are still picked in the 3-3-2-3-3 configuration and everybody accepts that. 

In soccer, though, there is more room for fluidity – even having settled on four in defence – Cork City’s experiments with three at the back have been few and short – there is the question of whether to go with a 4-4-2, a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3.

To some extent, it’s a case of semantics. 

The City team that won the Premier Division in 1992-93 played 4-4-2 and so did the 2005 side, but that could just as easily have been classed as a 4-2-3-1, with Neale Fenn operating just off John O’Flynn with Roy O’Donovan and Liam Kearney as flying wingers. 

Then, the 2017 vintage of 4-2-3-1 could just as easily have been classed a 4-3-3 – Garry Buckley was in the number 10 role ahead of Gearóid Morrissey and Conor McCormack but the trio operated like a unit while Karl Sheppard and Stephen Dooley flanked Seán Maguire.

Do you pick the formation and then decide on the players, with the caveat that different guys might feature depending on which system is chosen? 

Or do you choose the best players and then fit them into a cohesive pattern? Given that 4-4-2 is almost a relic, we are leaning towards an alternative.

For now, we will focus on coming up with eight players worthy of being chosen in City’s all-time midfield and that’s a far-from-easy task.

Going chronologically, the early 1990s throw up two stand-out names, even if one of them wasn’t part of the league-winning side in 1993. 

Dave Barry (above) was touchstone for City back then – even if people didn’t know much about the team, they knew who he was and rightly so. 

His goal against Bayern Munich ensures immortality but, that aside, he would be a near shoo-in for selection. 

An all-round midfielder of the kind that doesn’t really exist anymore, that he was able to combine City with the Cork football team – once Billy Morgan successfully secured his reinstatement – speaks volumes.

Alongside him in the engine room as City were pipped by Dundalk in 1991 was Patsy Freyne, another who combined the necessary defensive duties with the spectacular attacking forays. 

On the left flank for that victory was Tipperary native Ollie Cahill, who was perhaps unlucky in that his early time with City coincided with some mediocre league showings before he was a key part of the sides that finished second in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. 

When he left for Shelbourne, he was vilified by City supporters, but that was an illustration of just what an impressive player he was, something he showed by his medal haul in Dublin.

Cahill’s Shelbourne debut was a 3-0 defeat at Turner’s Cross in July 2002 as summer soccer began, with City giving debuts to John O’Flynn and George O’Callaghan the same night. 

George O'Callaghan in action against Derry City at Turner;s Cross. Picture: Gavin Browne
George O'Callaghan in action against Derry City at Turner;s Cross. Picture: Gavin Browne

In a league often short on flair, O’Callaghan was box-office. While some creative players can be nullified by agricultural means, O’Callaghan could mix it and the 2005 title win probably wouldn’t have happened without his input. 

Unfortunately, he fell out with Damien Richardson a year later and his return in 2008 ended in similar fashion as he and manager Alan Mathews couldn’t agree on his best role.

Partnering O’Callaghan in the middle in 2005 was Joe Gamble, who is unique in being the only player to date to have been capped by the Republic of Ireland at senior level while playing with City. 

It’s a great shame that 2005 was a high point of the decade for the club rather than the start of sustained dominance but Gamble didn’t jump ship when things turned and his performances remained up to his usual high standard.

Both he and Colin Healy won FAI Cup medals in 2007 and, while Healy was sold in 2009 to ease cashflow worries, he returned in 2012 and enjoyed an Indian summer at Turner’s Cross. 

His overhead kick against St Patrick’s Athletic in 2014 was one of the great City memories and he was desperately unlucky to miss out on a league medal that year as City were edged by Dundalk.

Thankfully, the title was achieved in 2017 and Gearóid Morrissey and Conor McCormack provided the midfield platform that, protecting a defence that was already quite stingy and feeding an attacking roster that was able to cut opponents apart.

Shortlist: Dave Barry, Patsy Freyne, Ollie Cahill, George O’Callaghan, Joe Gamble, Colin Healy, Gearóid Morrissey, Conor McCormack

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