Cork City dream team: Making the case for club's meanest defenders

Cork City dream team: Making the case for club's meanest defenders
Three top-class Cork City defenders Dan Murray, Alan Bennett and Neal Horgan with the league trophy in 2005. Picture: Brian Lougheed

WE still haven’t fully decided on what formation the Cork City 1984-2019 team will field, but the uncertainty is further forward, with the complement of four defenders set in stone.

Today, we will try to come up with a shortlist of nine from which the final selection will emerge.

As with the goalkeepers yesterday, the title winning seasons of 1992-93, 2005 and 2017 will form the basis, but there are some notable exceptions.

For instance, Brian Carey impressed so much in his short time with City that he earned a £100,000 move to Manchester United in 1989, but it would be hard to make the case that he deserves a spot more than those with longer service in green and white.

Philip Long was a stalwart of the late 1980s and early 1990s and had the misfortune to leave before 1992-93, with Stephen Napier taking over at left-back for the championship season.

Joining him in the back four for the 3-2 win over Shelbourne that clinched the title were Cormac Cotter, Declan Daly and Fergus O’Donoghue, but Paul Bannon — chosen at centre-forward with John Caulfield on the bench — would also warrant consideration as a centre-back.

The Cork City side of 1993 contained some great defenders: Back: Patsy Freyne, Johnny Glynn, Stephen Napier, Noel Mooney, Gareth Cronin, Derek Coughlan, Fergus O'Donoghue. Front: Kelvin Flanagan, Jason Kabia, Declan Daly, John Caulfield, Dave Hill, Ollie Cahill
The Cork City side of 1993 contained some great defenders: Back: Patsy Freyne, Johnny Glynn, Stephen Napier, Noel Mooney, Gareth Cronin, Derek Coughlan, Fergus O'Donoghue. Front: Kelvin Flanagan, Jason Kabia, Declan Daly, John Caulfield, Dave Hill, Ollie Cahill

While Daly was centre-back that day, he benefits from the fact that he was just as adept at right-back and his pace, positioning and awareness meant that he made life a nightmare for wingers.

He was also at centre-back for the 1998 FAI Cup final and was captain for both victories, which further advances his cause. Cotter, chosen in a variety of different positions by Noel O’Mahony, suffers from his versatility.

O’Donoghue had showed maturity beyond his years in 1990-91, when City were denied by Dundalk on the final day of the season, and then joined Cambridge United but returned for 1992-93 and slotted effortlessly back in.

At his best alongside a commanding aerial presence, his organisation skills were second to none. He played at right-back for the cup win in 1998.

The aforementioned Napier had two stints with City, bisected by a spell with Dundalk, with whom he won the league in 1995.

Stephen Napier celebrates a goal with John Caulfield and Colin O'Brien against Shamrock Rovers. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Stephen Napier celebrates a goal with John Caulfield and Colin O'Brien against Shamrock Rovers. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The Clonmel native played in every spot across the back four and played more than 300 times for the club, inheriting the captaincy from Daly on his retirement.

All of the 2005 vintage warrant examination.

While that side is remembered for the attacking talents of Kevin Doyle, John O’Flynn, George O’Callaghan, Roy O’Donovan, Liam Kearney, Neale Fenn and Denis Behan, it’s easy to forget that, over a 33-game campaign, Damien Richardson’s side scored the comparatively low tally of 53 goals — nine fewer than third-placed Shelbourne — but they conceded just 18 goals, with 25 the next lowest.

The quartet of Neal Horgan, Alan Bennett, Dan Murray and Danny Murphy was an outstandingly cohesive unit and it’s a pity that they didn’t get to play together for City for longer while in their prime.

It shouldn’t be forgotten, though, that while each of the four left the club during the late 2000s, all of them returned, such was the emotional pull of the Rebel Army.

Bennett fared the best second time around and is still in situ as a player-coach.

He is the only outfield player to have featured in two title-winning seasons and the back four that enjoyed such a wonderful start to 2017 – Steven Beattie, Bennett, Ryan Delaney (below) and Kevin O’Connor — was another outstanding foursome.

In the 21 games before O’Connor and Seán Maguire left, City won 20 and drew one, conceding just 10 goals.

However, Beattie was arguably better as a midfielder and so is unlikely to make the cut here; Delaney was on loan from Burton Albion and so can’t really be considered for City’s best 11; and O’Connor was signed by Preston North End during that season, though he returned on loan for 2019, albeit featuring more in midfield.

A short career with City isn’t an obstacle in itself – O’Connor’s transfer was combined with that of Maguire, who candidacy is cast-iron guaranteed – but in a field as strong as this, it is an impediment.

Such was the quality of the 2005 first-choice back four, it’s often forgotten that Derek Coughlan was part of that squad too, having returned from Bohemians.

The big centre-back will always be remembered for the goal that won the 1998 FAI Cup final replay against Shelbourne and he cannot be discounted here.

Playing in midfield for City in that game was Dave Hill, but the Englishman was unlucky not to win a league medal in the following two seasons as he excelled at centre-back during second-place finishes.

Another without a league medal for City but who was outstanding in his short time at Turner’s Cross was Kenny Browne, who partnered Bennett at the heart of the defence in 2016, when City conceded just 23 goals in 33 games.

His abrupt departure opened the door for Delaney to take over.

If he had stayed, he would have a much stronger case, but given the defensive riches available to City over the years, he misses out on the shortlist.

Shortlist: Declan Daly, Fergus O’Donoghue (above), Stephen Napier, Derek Coughlan, Neal Horgan, Dave Hill, Alan Bennett, Dan Murray, Danny Murphy.

Who would you pick?

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