MEET the new season, same as the old season.
Just as 2018 ended with a fourth straight FAI Cup final between Cork City and Dundalk, so 2019 starts with a meeting of the two sides that have dominated domestic football since 2014.
While Dundalk are 4-1 ahead in terms of league titles since then and the four FAI Cup finals have been shared, City have won all three President’s Cups, triumphing 4-2 at Oriel Park last year after going 2-0 down.
The Lilywhites enter with something of an uncertainty around them following Stephen Kenny’s departure to take the reins as Ireland U21 manager, but all of their key players have been retained with Daniel Kelly joining from Bohemians and English midfielder Jordan Flores signing too.
John Gill and Vinny Perth are now in charge, and City manager John Caulfield doesn’t think that the Louth club have been weakened.
“John Gill has been around the league for a long time,” he said.
“Vinny Perth has been the assistant so he knows the running of the club. I think if they had a number of personnel changes with players you might say something, but the fact that they’ve kept all their players and enhanced it with new signings, particularly Daniel Kelly, it augurs well for them.
“They are the club that have been at the top with ourselves for the last number of years. Obviously they won a number of trophies, they have kept all their players, they have invested with Daniel Kelly, Flores from Wigan, and they could possibly bring in someone else before the weekend.
“They have kept their team, they’re investing very heavily and that’s their plan. Financially they’re just in a different place than we are. That’s fine, we know where we’re at. There’s probably a bigger challenge for us because we will have a lot of new players on Saturday. It will be an indicator to see what we’re like.”
Under the ownership of American investment firm Peak6, Dundalk are now in a different league to everyone else in terms of financial clout. Caulfield wouldn’t mind being in such a position but at the same time he’s willing to get on with things.
“Everyone knows that, financially, we’ve changed things dramatically,” he said.
“I think people can see that with the quality of the players [who left]. A lot of those guys were experienced, they had been around for a long time so they were high earners.
“That’s just the way it is and that’s just the decision the club has gone with. I have no problem with that. At the end of the day, if the new board want to go down that road, that’s fine. I’m here to get the best out of the players we have.
“I’m asking the supporters this year to come out and back the new players. They’re young, get behind them, give them support. If you do that, anything is possible. Is it going to be a huge challenge? Of course it is.
"Is there more pressure than any other year? No, there’s not. There’s pressure every year. Everyone expects.”