Caulfield's incredible record at Cork City won't be diminished by his departure

Caulfield's incredible record at Cork City won't be diminished by his departure
Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

JOHN Caulfield was the manager of Cork City for almost five and a half years when he parted company with the club on Tuesday night.

While recent results were poor, it was still a shock on Wednesday morning to learn he was no longer the boss at the club. You would have thought his incredible record would have bought him more time.

But, falling crowds at home games, the style of play, and issues behind the scenes led to the club’s board of management acting swiftly.

John Cotter will lead on Friday against Bohs and we wish him well.

How long he will get as interim boss remains to be seen, with the names of Colin O’Brien and Neale Fenn, currently impressing at the helm in Longford, already linked to the job. O’Brien is favourite with many to take over once he finishes with the Irish U17 team and the European Championships which start this weekend in Ireland.

That's for another day. 

This is about acknowledging what a great job Caulfield did during his spell in charge of the club. It was an amazing five years and no one could have predicted the success he brought to the club over that period when he was first unveiled as the successor to Tommy Dunne.

Losing his job in the middle of this very poor run of results which saw no win from the previous eight games should not affect his legacy. It should not take away from what the west Cork man has achieved in those 65 months as the boss of Cork City.

No other Cork boss has been as successful as Caulfield in any era. 

John Caulfield playing for Avondale against Bandon. Picture: Gavin Browne
John Caulfield playing for Avondale against Bandon. Picture: Gavin Browne

When you look at who he is and what he achieved as a player and then as a coach at Avondale and UCC, there were hints he could deliver when he took charge but no one predicted him to keep City at the top for so long. He did an amazing job in terms of qualifying for Europe and lifting trophies.

Now aged 53, Caulfield, who is married to Gráinne, his biggest and most vocal supporter, who he has two girls Aideen and Sinead with, has been a winner all his sporting life, regardless of what sport he played or what team he managed.

John Caulfield with his wife Grainne and daughters Sinead and Aideen.
John Caulfield with his wife Grainne and daughters Sinead and Aideen.

He began his managerial career with Avondale in 2002 and was there until 2010 and during that time he helped establish them as the best club side in the country, winning two FAI Intermediate Cup titles as well as two MSL Premier division league titles.

He then moved on to coach UCC from 2010 to 2013 and while there he led them to the Collingwood Cup and promotion to the MSL Premier Division in 2011.

From there he moved to City in November 2013 and became Cork City’s most decorated manager ever.

Prior to last year’s FAI Cup final he had led the team to a league title in 2017, four times they have finished runners-up to Dundalk in the league, they have won three President’s Cup, European qualification has happened each and every year since he took over, and he led to the club to it’s fourth cup final in-a-row.

No manager has led Cork City to four cup finals in-a-row, although Cork Athletic did in from 1950 to 1953. They won two and lost two of those finals. Same as this Cork City side.

Only Cork Hibernians in 1972 and 1973 can match City’s achievement in winning back-to-back FAI Cups. Prior to his taking over Cork had only won the cup two times in 1998 and 2007 in their previous 20 years.

Since he took over as the manager of the club in 2014, prior to last year’s final, Caulfield had only lost two games in the FAI Cup competition. They were the 2015 FAI Cup final against Dundalk when Richie Towell scored an extra-time winner and the other time was against Bohs after a replay in 2014, when Dinny Corcoran fired in the winner at Dalymount Park.

That was an incredible run of form in the FAI Cup and one that may never be repeated.

Despite not winning a trophy last year, he kept City in the mix with a fantastic Dundalk unit.

Even as a player with Cork, Caulfield was a winner. His goalscoring prowess was legendary as was his partnership up front with Pat Morley.

Caulfield played for City 455 times, scored 129 goals, he has started more games than any other player in the club’s history with 376 starts to his name, he has also come off the bench the most times, 79.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

During this time he won a Premier League title in 1992/93 and an FAI Cup final in 1997/98. He was the league’s top scorer in 1991-92 and again in 1994-95.

He was also a winner during his brief spell as a Gaelic footballer with the Cork junior footballers. In 1990 he won the All-Ireland and Munster junior football titles. He has a keen interest in GAA and a strong affinity to St Mary's, his local club in Ballineen/Enniskeane.

When he took over Cork City in 2013 he was only the club’s second full-time manager after Tommy Dunne, who was appointed by Foras when they took over the running of the club in 2010. In 2011, Dunne guided them to the title winning the First Division on the last day of the season up in Tolka Park when Graham Cummins’ late winner sparked scenes of wild celebration.

The club’s first year back in the Premier Division in 2012 they finished sixth, but in August 2013 Tommy Dunne was sacked.

Up stepped Caulfield.

Cork City finished second in his first year in charge, second in his second and third then two years ago he eventually won the league, while last year they were second again behind Dundalk in the league and Cup.

How did he manage to achieve this? What made him so different to other Cork City managers? How was he so successful?

Caulfield was ruthless and ran the first team his way. If you disagreed with his style of play or tactics, then you would find yourself out of the team and or even out of the club, as the likes of Anthony Elding and Josh O’Hanlon discovered. Caulfield is totally confident in his beliefs as a coach.

He constantly changed his squad at the Cross. He regularly moved players in and out for a variety of reasons, but at all times he believed it is for the betterment of his squad.

Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Look at the numbers.

In season 2014-15 he signed 14 players including Alan Bennett and the late Liam Miller and moved on 14. In 2015-16 he signed 13 new players including Seanie Maguire, Steven Beattie and Gearóid Morrissey, while at the same time let go 15 players.

In 2016-17 he again signed 17 new players including Jimmy Keohane and Conor McCormack, while he released 18.

Last season just ended he introduced 15 players to the club and let 11 go, while for 2019 nine left the club.

His team and squad had been constantly evolving and it needed to be to keep pace with Dundalk, who for the record will probably go down as one of the greatest League of Ireland squads ever assembled.

Caulfield had been able to do this and keep Cork challenging because of his ability to keep evolving and because the club is run very professionally off the pitch these days. Fan-group FORAS have handled the club’s finances impressively.

Turnover in 2017 was €2.7 million and grew again last year but it also cost more to maintain and run the club and that certainly had an impact in assembling a squad for this campaign when Kieran Sadlier and Beattie were among the departees.

In the past two years, turnover has increased by 75% and off the field, staff have increased by more than 250% in those two years as the club hires new personnel to help with the day to day demands of running a full-time professional club. Cork is only one of three clubs that pay their players 52 weeks of the year. 

Consistency on and off the pitch, up to the recent blip, was significant in re-establishing City at the top.

John Caulfield and Mark McNulty celebrate. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
John Caulfield and Mark McNulty celebrate. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

In 2014 they won 22 of their 33 league games to finish second, in 2015 they won 19 of their 33 games to finish second again, in 2016 they won 21 of their 33 league games to finish second, while in 2017 Cork City won 24 of their 33 league games to win the league title.

Last year from their 36 league games they have won 24 times to finish runners-up.

This year Cork had only won three games. It was some dip as over the previous five seasons, John Caulfield’s team had only lost 17 times from 168 league games.

That is an incredible record which he should receive great credit and acclaim for. Right now Cork are in a different place to this time last year both on and off the pitch.

Particularly, so, with regards to the playing budget, which has been cut by €300,000. It works out at €5,770 a week over 52 weeks or €7,500 a week if City revert back to paying their players for only 40 weeks of the year.

And I know Caulfield was on record as saying this may hurt the whole club, including the underage squads, but the bulk if not all was trimmed from the senior set-up.

That’s a lot of cash to lose and it affected a lot of players, both those in contract and those looking for a new contract.

Every other year Caulfield's budget had increased, so assembling a new-look team to try to take down Dundalk, who are in a different world to Cork in terms of how they are run and by how they are backed by Peak6 Sports, the American Investment company, and also stay ahead of Shamrock Rovers, Waterford and Derry proved a very difficult task.

While we may have disagreed with his defensive tactics at times and wish he sent his teams out with more focus on attacking from the off, there is no denying he has been the best ever Cork City manager.

We thank him for all he has done and wish him well in the future.

I have no doubt we have not seen the last of him as a manager in the League of Ireland.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more