IF ever there was a game to represent Cork City's 2019 season, last Thursday's home defeat to Progrès Niederkorn was it.
On a night where the Rebel Army could afford to forget about their dismal league campaign, the performance is something which will linger long in the memory, and quite possibly go down as City’s worst-ever result in European competition.
It all seemed set up - a gloomy Thursday afternoon turned into a sparkling summer’s evening, with a golden sun providing the perfect reason to the last-minute merchants to take a trip out to the Cross.
The UEFA flags flying at the top of the Derrynane gave us the air of European optimism, with the promise of a money-spinning tie against Rangers in the future, and the scent of past European glories in the air.
And to be fair, John Cotter’s men were at it early on, winning a few (wasted) set pieces, and winning every contest against a Niederkorn side who, despite some crisp passing in their own house, did little to challenge Mark McNulty in the Cork City goal.
And then it all fell apart.
Two absolutely appalling goals conceded, Colm Horgan hauled off on his European debut, and complete chaos as the boos rained down at the interval.
The two goals, and the resulting fallout both on the pitch and in the stands, sapped whatever crumb of confidence the Rebel Army had built after a positive performance against Bohemians the week previous out.
Those in green were petrified of getting on the ball, unwilling to take responsibility and potentially make themselves a culpable target of criticism, as the change of shape neutralised a Joel Coulstrain who looked bright in the opening moments. There was a feeling of groundhog day as the Leesiders reverted to playing long ball up to veteran striker Mark O'Sullivan.
To the crowd’s immense credit, they continued to press on their side even in the seemingly hopeless situation of being 2-0 down at home in the Europa League, and were prepared for a fightback - before Karl Sheppard's awful penalty sapped whatever bit of life was left from the announced 3,000, though to the naked eye it seemed a lot more.
Given the club’s financial situation and largely meaningless rest of the season, the decision to continue Cotters’ interim role as manager, but there has been little to suggest that the former Avondale boss is a long-term solution to the management question surrounding City, as things got even worse up front in the second-half.
Only thing penetrating in the second-half was the sun which was dipping over the top of the St Anne’s End, not that the packed Shed-End were too bothered by Mother Nature’s force blinding them from the water-weak performance.
That a 36-year old striker, brought on an hour earlier than anticipated, having just come off the back of an entire season in the MSL, was the only one (and perhaps Ronan Hurley) whose shift was deserving applause was a damning indictment of a side packed with players who not so long ago were double champions of the country.
So where do we go from here?
It’s hard to see any progression under the current iteration of City’s management team, which is clearly still carrying the hangover from the sad end to John Caulfield’s reign as manager.
Barring a minor miracle on Thursday in Niederkorn, it’s difficult to see the Rebel Army progressing in the FAI Cup, currently unable to score goals, which is causing panic in the backline.
More than a few City supporters have expressed their concerns about the Rebel Army’s first ever trip to Stradbrook in the first round of the FAI Cup next month. The very real situation that the South Dublin outfit score first would make any City fan quaking in their boots, having seen their side fail to score twice in over two months - a 2-0 home win over UCD on the 10th May.
City have been kept scoreless in their last four games, and yet this week all we’ve seen was another departure up front in the shape of Darragh Rainsford, it’s now been over two years since Sean Maguire’s departure, and we’re still searching for someone to provide a few goals.
It’s a sad and sorry end to a great era at this football club, but one that now needs to be consigned to the history books. The club needs to look further than the odd returning player from England, and a few quick signings from the Junior grades to make up the numbers.
With few players now on retaining contracts, it offers the opportunity for a full clear out, both in playing and coaching staff, as the club cuts its cloth accordingly, and develops a clear future strategy in both style and recruitment, based on the individual they feel is capable of taking this team back to the top.
On the two occasions FORAS has needed to appoint a permanent manager, they’ve made fantastic decisions in Tommy Dunne and Caulfield. Another difficult decision is on the horizon and will be made by a more-than-capable Board of Management.
A decision, any decision is welcome. The current uncertainty surrounding the team is affecting the club and its supporters.
Last Thursday was enough proof of that.