Challenging times await Cork City after Dundalk laid down a real marker this season

Challenging times await Cork City after Dundalk laid down a real marker this season

Alan Bennett and Patrick Hoban of Dundalk. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

AT Cork City’s press conference ahead of the FAI Cup final, John Caulfield was asked if the game would define the club’s season.

Win and you have some silverware and three cups in a row; lose and you end up without a pot and ensure your opponents claim the double for the second time in four years. 

It was quite the knife-edge, but Caulfield didn’t feel that looking at things in such stark terms was the best way to assess success, especially given the contrasting climates experienced by City and Dundalk.

“I wouldn't think so but it depends on what you mean by define your season,” he said.

“You have to see it in a context where we're dominated by the UK, you can’t see past it, every armchair supporter or guys on the barstool, everything is dominated by the UK.

“Our league is now being treated like that, managers and players are being treated like that – get rid of this, get rid of that. But we're not at that level. We're struggling to create our own industry and you've heard me say that before.

“No player in this country, bar a handful, would be on a wage anywhere close to League 1. 

"Most players are scrapping for their few bob and 80 percent players are out of contract now. What are we here for? There are only two trophies, realistically.

“Is our season defined by Sunday? It depends on how you look at. 

"We have been phenomenally successful and qualified for Europe but there are a small few who say this, this and this should happen. 

"We cannot go out and buy players like Mourinho. We're not in that market but unfortunately, we're treated that way and you have to deal with that. 

"We've ended up having sensationalism around the league, get rid of people et cetera.

“Is it defining for us this season? I wouldn't think so at all. 

"We have been incredibly consistent. Would we like to win the cup? 

"Absolutely, but we may not. We'll still have had a fantastic season.”

John Caulfield shakes hands with Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
John Caulfield shakes hands with Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A decade ago, when a 10-team Premier Division was last in operation, City’s tally of 77 points would most likely have been enough to win it, but things move on. 

At the 1936 Olympics, Mack Robinson ran the 200m faster than any man had done before then – unfortunately for him, Jesse Owens ran 0.4 of a second quicker in the same race.

As good as City were, Dundalk were better, and most crucially, they were better in four of the six games played between the clubs. 

Of City’s two wins, the President’s Cup can be discounted for what it was, a step above a friendly but still a notch or two below ‘real’ action.

Looking at the four league games, the last one was effectively a dead rubber, Dundalk on their title procession and City knowing that a win wouldn’t have been enough, making for a very strange encounter at Turner’s Cross.

The first two clashes were 1-0 home wins, Patrick Hoban and Gearóid Morrissey with the goals, so they cancel each other out. 

It’s the sides’ third league meeting, at Oriel Park on June 29, which warrants the closest examination.

City went into that game a point ahead at the top of the table and, as it went into injury time, it looked like the status quo would prevail as sub Josh O’Hanlon had equalised in the wake of Krisztian Adorjan putting the hosts ahead.

There was still time for one late attack though and, when sub Ronan Murray sent a cross over from the left intended for Patrick Hoban, Seán McLoughlin was unlucky to steer the ball into his own net as he attempted to clear.

Oriel Park rocked that night, as team, management and support appreciated just what a big win it was. 

It made it 11 straight league wins and it was a run they would extend to 15 – with each victory comes more belief, so if they had stalled against City, they mightn’t have driven on so ruthlessly.

Against that, City went out a week later and lost their 100 percent home record, Gavin Bazunu saving Kieran Sadlier’s penalty and from there, it was always catch-up. 

While the Rebel Army did make it back to the top of the table, it was always a situation where they had more games played.

There was a glimmer of home when Dundalk’s winning run was ended by Shamrock Rovers but City couldn’t take advantage, losing at home to Sligo Rovers having taken the lead. 

Again, that game had a ‘butterfly effect’ moment – at 1-0, Sadlier hit the post with a free kick whereas a second goal would have put the game beyond the visitors. 

That loss came after a 1-1 home draw with St Patrick’s Athletic and was followed by the forgettable loss at Bohemians.

After that came the 1-0 home loss against Dundalk but things had been decided before that. 

What was most disappointing about the three games prior to that was that none of the three teams who took points off City had anything to play for – they were too far off the European spots and more or less safe from relegation.

Confidence is a strange thing but City lacked it after the Europa League defeat to Rosenborg, having been outplayed in two games, and it took a while for it to come back. 

It did, eventually and belatedly, as they won their final three league games, against Limerick, Derry City and Bray Wanderers, by a combined scoreline of 11-1.

It was closer to the City we know and love and, while the season ended in a defeat, it was after going toe-to-toe with a team who had that bit between their teeth, of the kind that ensured they wouldn’t be denied a double as they had been in 2016.

A creditable second place for City in the league and the cup, but nobody will be satisfied with that. 

Conor McCartrhy goes high with Dundalk's Michael Duffy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Conor McCartrhy goes high with Dundalk's Michael Duffy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

There will be an overhaul on the playing front for 2019, but there has been every year in John Caulfield’s tenure.

There’s no reason City can’t be in the mix again in 2019, but Dundalk will be just as good, if not better too. 

Challenging times await.


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