GEORGE O’CALLAGHAN was a key member of the 2005 Cork City Premier Division title-winning team and was then one of the most technically gifted footballers in the League Of Ireland.
Although he played for Ipswich Town and Brighton, O’Callaghan rates his time at City.
“When I was with Cork City, I was too obsessed in my own head to go back to England and I never enjoyed it as much as I should have.
“So, looking back on my career, my happiest times were always with Cork City. We had an amazing few years and we had a great bunch of lads.
“It was a really special time. I think you don’t realise these things until you get older. With the players now, they might move onto England or different clubs. But you will never forget winning at Cork City because it is the biggest club in Ireland.
“That is why, when I speak about the players, I might sometimes be harsh on them, because I know exactly what is going to happen,” O’Callaghan says.
“Seeing it now, with some of the players that are going to leave. They will miss Cork City when it is gone, because, when you look back on your career, you realise what a great club and great fans the City supporters are.”
O’Callaghan has a strong connection with the current City boss, Neale Fenn, in that they both played together for The Rebel Army on that title-winning side of 2005.
“You could play balls into his feet. He was just amazing on the ball and clever around the box,” says O’Callaghan on playing with Fenn at Cork.
“That is what has been missing this season: there has been nobody to hold the ball up and nobody to link the play.
“That is what Fenny was and a lot of the lads that are going to be coming in will be getting great experience.
“He made his debut for Tottenham against Man United, played in the Premier League, went to Peterborough, and had a great career in the League Of Ireland,” O’Callaghan says.
2019 has been a season to forget for Cork City. They finished third from bottom, on 37 points, having won the title in 2017 and having finished runner-up in 2018. That’s quite a collapse.
O’Callaghan is brutally honest in his assessment of City’s campaign and how things have gone so far off course.
“Neale came in at a very difficult time and he had a very difficult start. Against Dundalk, they showed a big improvement.
“You can’t get away from the fact that John Caulfield did an amazing job, bringing in the crowds and the trophies they won.
“But I think, certainly this season, I think that everything just went a little bit stale. In the last few years, when things were going well with the club, that was the time to push on,” O’Callaghan says.
“Fenny coming in: Now he’s got a big job on his hands, because he is not going to have the budget that they had before.
“He is going to start having to produce a few young players, which he has been doing. So, I think, that is probably the way that the club is going to go now.
“It has been encouraging, but if you go back over the last few years, the recruitment just hasn’t been good enough.
“It has gone to the stage where Fenny is going to need the three-year plan now to get Cork City back up where they need to be.”
O’Callaghan says that Fenn is going to need time to turn things around, given the rebuilding job that is required.
“When everything is flying, nobody expects it to go. Now it has come to the situation where you have to make changes,” O’Callaghan says.
“I do think that Fenny is definitely the right man for that, because I always say he is a shrewd character and a very clever guy.
“So, for Fenny, now, it is just about bringing that kind of feel-good factor back to the club, get the crowds back in, and getting the right players.”
Meanwhile, Galway United have pulled off something of a coup by securing the services of former Cork City player Shane Duggan for the 2020 season.
“There is huge potential in Galway. You see the fan base that can come out when the club is doing well. It’s an unbelievable place to play; it’s a great stadium with a fantastic pitch,” O’Callaghan said.