WHEN this reporter makes the phone call to Admir Softic, who is now over in Germany, it is clear he still very much has a soft spot for Cork City FC.
Arriving in Ireland from his native Bosnia, the then-teenager played for a while with Birr Town in the Leinster Senior League, before moving to Leeside in 2003, after being recommended to Liam Murphy at City and following a trial, he was signed by Pat Dolan.
Softic spent five years at Turner’s Cross and grew a reputation as an industrious midfielder, working under the likes of Dolan and Damien Richardson.
While it took him a bit of time to break into the first team, his hard work across the pitch endeared him to the Cork City faithful.
“Cork City had a very strong squad around that time and just to be a part of it, to develop myself as a player under those circumstances was great for me,” recalls Softic.
“It was a very exciting time and I was very grateful to be able to play those games, especially in Europe. That was a big highlight for me.”
Indeed, City provided Softic with the chance to play European football and getting to line out in the UEFA Champions League in 2006.
He was to start in both legs of the tie against Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade, while also coming on in the previous qualifying round tie in Cyprus.
“The Champions League time was a bit unique. That was an unbelievable experience.
“I was only 19 at the time. I was on the fringes of the first team as a young player and there was some great competition in midfield.
“We played Apollon Limassol in Cyprus and I came on in the last 10 minutes, where we drew 1-1 and went on to play Red Star Belgrade.
“There was a bit of a scuffle in the aftermath of the game in Cyprus and I think Joe Gamble and Danny Murphy got sent off. So we had two suspensions going into the Red Star game.
“Damien Richardson had the courage to throw me in and play full games against Red Star Belgrade.
“In the first leg we were very unlucky to concede an own goal and not to score. In the second leg they had much quality and it was just another atmosphere in Belgrade, for us who did not experience that before and just another learning lesson in Europe.
“I was in the squad when we were in Prague playing Slavia Prague and when we played Hammerby in Sweden, which was a great experience.
“I have been following City all of the time and following the results,” Softic explains when asked does he still keep up to date with how the club are doing.
He describes also how the club made excellent progress in the space of a few short years, from essentially starting from scratch in 2010 in the First Division.
“I have kept in touch with some of the lads like Mark McNulty, just to see how things were going.
“It was tremendous to see how the club has risen from the bankruptcy issues, to then win the double and be in cup finals a few years in a row.
“I am pretty sure that City will get it right again in the long term and this is just a blip at the moment and some unfortunate circumstances.”
While regarding his own footballing development, Softic has fond memories of the time which he spent on Leeside.
“It helped me as a young player tremendously.
“The most important thing was the quality in the squad. I got to play with the likes of John O’Flynn, George O’Callaghan, Neale Fenn, Joe Gamble, Liam Kearney and all the other lads.
“In the first couple of years, Kevin Doyle was there as well. It was just exciting and it brought me forward because every training session was like a game.”
Two of his former teammates in Neale Fenn and Joe Gamble are now of course in charge of the first team affairs at Cork City.
Softic, who is now involved in coaching himself with TuS Koblenz in Germany, feels that given time, Fenn and Gamble can help bring Cork back to the top of the domestic Irish football.
“It is similar to the situation we have here at Koblenz. The head coach here is my former teammate.
“He is a club legend here in the sense when this club was in the Bundesliga 2, he was a very well-known player.
“We are pretty good friends outside of the pitch and have been in charge for the last two years.
“So it is pretty similar with Neale and Joe. On a personal level they are very well connected and that is very important, the trust is there.
“It is going to have to be a long road. I don’t think you are going to see a finished article this season.
“At City, it is a big transition from last year in how many players left and came in.
“So there has to be a lot of patience from the Cork City fans and the board.
“I am sure in the long term, which realistically maybe is next season if they get the proper backing and funds, and if the younger players develop themselves this season, City could kick on and maybe get into the top two or three.”