SO here it is, the new Fenn era at Cork City begins tomorrow at home to Sligo Rovers, as supporters — like ourselves — try to banish the six-hour return trip to Galway to see the Leesiders’ pathetic performance against Galway in the FAI Cup to the back of our heads.
We were also in attendance at the Cork International Airport Hotel on Monday for the former City midfielder’s announcement, and while it will take more than the few games left in the 2019 season to steady this listing ship, there were a number of things the manager said that can at least leave the Rebel Army faithful with some hope that change is on the horizon.
“I think belief and confidence is what we need to improve on...”
With only a handful of games left for the Rebel Army in the league, now out of the cup, and — barring a disastrous next few weeks — likely to be safe from the relegation places, there’s really nothing to play for, from a Rebel Army point of view.
That this provides a blank canvas for Fenn to work from, and experiment with his squad, will be seen as a positive by many, but for the players themselves there is undoubtedly a malaise among the squad, feeling particularly sorry for themselves after a chastening visit to the away end at Terryland Park following last week’s abject failure.
“The one thing I said to the players is that you’re going to enjoy it, which is one way of lifting the guys without doing too much. It’s all about getting a smile on people’s faces,” said Fenn on a Monday sat just a few days after that disaster on Corribside, but the conference room had a sense of fresh air around it, not just due to whatever freshener the hotel chooses to use.
Fenn’s Longford played some fantastic football in the last two seasons, and despite the understandable anger emanating from the City Calling Stadium about the circumstances of the Londoner’s departure, he has left the Town in good health for assistant Daire Doyle, as they head into the First Division playoffs.
“There’s players that haven’t been playing recently that I can integrate into the squad... Daire O’Connor is definitely someone we’ll be looking to be reintroducing.”
Music to many supporters ears, hearing the dynamic former UCD winger who caused teams such difficulties at the beginning of the season, pairing up with a manager who has fostered a number of talented wide players among his ranks over the past few seasons.
One needs only to look at the change in Dylan McGlade’s play under Fenn with Longford last year to understand what he can do to young wide players, just by inspiring a bit of confidence. O’Connor was a shell of the player we saw at the beginning of the season, since a shoulder injury sustained against Bohemians in March.
The 22-year-old tore up the First Division last year, and hasn’t become a bad player overnight. The lack of confidence is painfully evident, avoiding responsibility at all costs — afraid to make a mistake and again be hauled off before his time — and to see him sitting in the stands while a left-back was introduced at half-time to turn things around against Galway left a bad taste in the mouth.
“There’s a small bit of regret, I’m not oblivious to all that. But the chance to come back to this football club was one I couldn’t pass by.”
It seems like a strange quote, of all, to take from proceedings last Monday’s announcement, as the ex-Longford boss admitted remorse over how the situation with his departure at Longford came about, and the criticism he received from Town fans over the past week.
I think many, like myself, were surprised by the timing of the announcement, and particularly to see Fenn walk away from the Longford job having worked so hard to get them into the playoff places. It was therefore refreshing to hear some honesty from the 42-year-old that he had wished it had gone differently.
However, it seems Fenn hadn’t a choice if had wanted to take over the club, and it seems this is more than just a step up on the ladder for the former City player, a choice made with the heart rather than the head.
The last manager that led with his heart won this club a league and two FAI Cups, if Fenn can replicate that success in a similar timeframe then this managerial appointment can be considered a success.
“I know clubs in England and I have quite a lot of contacts in the UK.”
To Fenn’s credit, he has promised to “try and build a base of Cork-born players in the team”, something which has characterised every great City team of the past, including the 2005 league-winning side of which Fenn was the fulcrum.
There’s certainly a number of talented players from Leeside on the team breaking through, but for too many of the past few seasons, the club has recruited from within the county, often within intermediate and junior football.
That certainly has its place, heaven knows the impact Mark O’Sullivan had on the game in the RSC a few weeks ago, but diversifying our recruitment can only be seen as a good thing, particularly with reliable scorers so difficult to find in Ireland at the moment.