City supporters may have to adjust their expectations with so many changes to Caulfield's squad

City supporters may have to adjust their expectations with so many changes to Caulfield's squad
Dane Massey of Dundalk scores against City on Saturday. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

IF Saturday night’s President Cup clash is anything to go by, Cork City fans should strap themselves in for what could potentially be a season of many ups and downs.

On approach to Turner’s Cross, one of the Shed End’s favourite’s sons quipped to the steward “it’s good to be back.” After 45 minutes of action, he may have been wishing that the winter break was prolonged even further.

City were outfought, outthought and outclassed by Dundalk in the first half and the double winners really ought to have been further ahead at half-time.

There was a point in that opening period when Gearóid Morrissey secured possession deep in his own half, turned cleverly and looked for support, but the only person looking for the ball was Graham Cummins over on the far side.

The Lilywhites, for long spells, had the 2017 double winners penned back by their own penalty area and were asserting their dominance.

John Caulfield named three debutants in his starting 11 with Dáire O’Connor and James Tilley occupying the wings while Dan Casey came in at centre-back.

Dundalk may have changed managers during the off-season, but crucially, they kept most of their stars and were able to name the same starting 11 that defeated Cork in the FAI Cup final at the beginning of November. That continuity looked decisive in the first 45 minutes as the visitors quickly hit their stride and rediscovered their impressive form.

Michael Duffy of Dundalk in action against James Tilley. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Michael Duffy of Dundalk in action against James Tilley. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Patrick Hoban, the Premier Division’s top scorer last season with 29 goals, ought to have opened his tally for the new campaign inside 10 minutes, but his header from a Michael Duffy corner crashed against the inside of the far left post.

City were relieved but they didn’t heed the warning. On 36 minutes they failed to deal with another Duffy delivery and Dane Massey was on hand to head home the opener.

On 46 minutes, another Duffy cross found the head of the clinical Hoban and he wasn’t going to miss again. He glanced in from a few yards and to give the Louth club a two-goal lead at the break.

Talk among fans and reporters in the press box alike was about how bad this could become. Those were the downs, now for the ups.

Whatever John Caulfield and co said to their troops had the desired effect. Cummins was denied by Gary Rogers before the whole complexion of the match changed past the hour mark.

Kevin O'Connor celebrates with team-mate Dan Casey. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kevin O'Connor celebrates with team-mate Dan Casey. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Kevin O’Connor was introduced and suddenly the mood around the place lifted. O’Connor recently returned on loan from Preston North End but not as the full back that many fans remember but as a midfielder, coming on for Conor McCormack.

Three minutes later he took responsibility for a free kick 25 yards from goal and expertly curled it into the top left corner of the net. Game on.

Roared on by the majority of the 2,777 in attendance, City pressed for a leveller, but it wasn’t to be. For the first time, Cork City were defeated in the President’s Cup.

Their three-year ownership of the trophy had come to an end as Dundalk lifted the cup for the first time since 2015.

What this means for the rest of the season remains to be seen. This time last year many thought City’s 4-2 win at Oriel Park in this fixture, when they had trailed 2-0 at half time, was an indication that the club meant business as it went in search of another double.

Instead the double returned to Oriel Park.

Caulfield explained before Saturday's game: “It is good to have this game just before the start of the league. We have won it for the last three years, and that has got us off to a good start.

“On Saturday, I think people will see that there will be a lot of new players in our squad, so we need to try and integrate them.

City manager John Caulfield. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
City manager John Caulfield. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

“We are up against the club that have been up at the top, along with ourselves, for the last number of years, and they have kept their players as well as adding a few more.

“We have given game time to everyone in pre-season and given everyone an opportunity.

“We have a number of young lads who have come into the club, as well as some of our own young players coming up from the U19s, so it is a great opportunity for them,” was Caulfield’s message and the 90 minute sat the weekend showed that those words should be taken as read.

In the first half City looked like a team of new players that the management was still trying to integrate, but in the second half, they showed they had quality.

It could mean that City’s season may go on as it started.

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