CHANGES are afoot in Bishopstown, as Cork City begin rebuilding under manager Neale Fenn.
The new head coach had intimated that there would be a considerable refreshing of both the playing and non-playing staff.
With Karl Sheppard having announced his departure after the final league game of the season (the 3-0 defeat to Shamrock Rovers last month), on Monday the PFAI’s list of players available for transfer was published. City had five players featured, the joint-most, along with St Patrick’s Athletic.
Along with Sheppard, the list featured Colm Horgan, Aaron Barry (who spent last season with Bohemians), Conor McCormack, and Garry Buckley. While a player’s presence on the list isn’t a guarantee of their departure — they could resign with City — they are on it at their own request.
Of the quintet, Buckley is the only one who may yet sign a deal with City.
A number of other players are out of contract, though not on the transfer list. Veteran defender Alan Bennett is expected to retire, but is likely to remain involved with the club’s U13 management, while goalkeeper Mark McNulty could remain as back-up to Tadhg Ryan, while also coaching.
Captain Conor McCarthy, unquestionably City’s player of the year — and top scorer, despite playing at centre-back — could prove tough to retain, with interest likely from elsewhere.
As things stand, four players — Shane Griffin, Gearóid Morrissey, Dan Casey, and Dáire O’Connor — are under contract for 2020, but not even they are certain to remain. Casey, signed from Bohemians a year ago on a two-year contract, could return to Dalymount Park.
Obviously, with such a raft of departures, there are certain to be arrivals. Cabinteely’s Rob Manley, top scorer in the First Division, with 17 goals, last season, is almost certain to sign.
The striker scored against City in the FAI Cup — though his penalty in the shootout was saved by McNulty — while his brother, Joe, played under Fenn at Longford Town.
There had been hopes that Fenn could entice back former City players, Steven Beattie and Greg Bolger.
However, Beattie, now with Chattanooga Red Wolves, in the US, is unlikely to return, while Bolger — who won a fourth FAI medal, with Shamrock Rovers, on Sunday — remains a possibility, but City are unlikely to be able to match wage offers the midfielder could receive elsewhere.
At his unveiling back in August, Fenn — who was assistant manager at Leyton Orient, before taking the Longford job — was asked about the extent of his scouting network and that could prove to be a fruitful source of new recruits.
“Obviously, I know clubs in England and I’ve built contacts in the UK,” he said.
“There’s a network of scouts and coaches and managers and assistant managers that I use and, if we need to, we’ll bring people over from there.
“The focus, at the moment, is to assess what we have. The Cork City U19s have some very good players so, as much as we can, we’re going to try to promote those lads and get a base of Cork-born players in the team.”
In that latter regard, he will be helped by his newly appointed assistant and former team-mate, Joe Gamble, while City have instigated a policy of having underage teams managed by stars of the past.
It’s something Fenn is keenly aware of and the club’s financial situation is likely to expedite the promotion of players from the U19 set-up.
This was evident towards the end of the season, with Ben O’Brien-Whitmarsh given an extended run up-front, while Ronan Hurley benefited from greater exposure at left-back, and Alec Byrne enjoyed a very positive run of form. It should add up to a strong sense of ‘Corkness’ in the team for 2020.
“It’s hugely important to us, in terms of the image of the club and the brand of it: we are from Cork, at the end of the day,” Fenn said.
“We’ve had that, anyway, for the last number of years. It won’t take a monumental effort to bring that back. There are very strong characters in the dressing room.”