SSE Airtricity League Premier: Division: Dundalk v Cork City, Oriel Park, 7.45pm
A FIRST league meeting of the new season for the Premier Division’s ‘new firm’, and, unusually, neither is top of the table.
Dundalk go into Friday's game in second place, seven points behind Shamrock Rovers, but with two games in hand, while Cork City are two points further back in fourth, Bohemians in between the rivals.
Having started slowly in the league, City have picked up some form. Prior to the early defeats against St Patrick’s Athletic and Waterford, the Rebel Army lost at home to Dundalk in the President’s Cup. Having been 2-0 down at half-time, they pulled one back early in the second half and, while they had the better of the remainder, an equaliser remained elusive.
Nevertheless, that showing provided encouragement to manager John Caulfield for the season ahead.
“We learned that, basically, we played well and we were well capable of causing them problems and creating chances,” he says. “At the same time, we conceded from two set-pieces and we did likewise in the cup final. That’s an area that we need to be better at, and we normally are, but, in the last two matches against them we’ve conceded three goals and that’s not good enough from our point of view.
“Plus, there’s the fact that Hoban is up there and they’ll go quite direct and play off him. We need to manage the situation.
“They’ve loads of good players but, at the same time, what the President’s Cup did show was that when we got it down and opened the play and switched the play, we caused them problems.
“We’re looking at areas like that, but there’s no doubt that it will be a be a good game for both teams. Certainly, we’ll have to play exceptionally well and if we do that, then we have a great chance of getting a result.”
Dundalk are unbeaten, but they have drawn as many games — three — as they have won, with 10 goals scored and three conceded as they adjust to the post-Stephen Kenny era under Vinny Perth and John Gill.
However, they can still call upon the players that won them the domestic double last year, while some shrewd new signings have provided strong options.
“On paper, you’d have to say that they’ve a stronger squad,” Caulfield says.
“When you look at the number of quality players they’ve brought in, in particular Seán Murray, a really top player, and Daniel Kelly from Bohs. Then they’ve reinforced with [Jordan] Flores.
“They’ve brought in strength in depth and given themselves more competition for places. Patrick McEleney and Robbie Benson got injured in the first game of the season and they’re two absolutely top players and they haven’t missed them.”
For City, Dáire O’Connor is definitely out, having suffered a dislocated shoulder in the win over Bohemians a fortnight ago. James Tilley will also be absent after his red card in the Munster Senior Cup final win against Midleton last week.
Otherwise, City hope to have a full squad, with Gearóid Morrissey, Karl Sheppard, and captain Alan Bennett expected to shake off niggles.
With Seán McLoughlin fit again after injury, Caulfield has a decision to make as to whether or not put him back into a defence that kept a clean sheet against Bohemians. With Dáire O’Connor out, he may well shift Sheppard to the right of the attack, possibly allowing Kevin O’Connor to come in and play on the left of midfield.
It’s far too early in the season to be a must-win game — but with this clash followed by the visit of Shamrock Rovers next week, it’s important City do not lose ground on their rivals.